Green shelves mayoral ambitions for SRC job

Posted: January 20, 2014

When Bill Green last sought reelection to City Council, in 2011, he was so openly interested in Philadelphia's 2015 mayoral race that it became part of his pitch at ward meetings.

Other candidates waiting to speak took to joking about it. "Here's the part where he runs for mayor," one candidate for judge whispered to another as Green was speaking one night in Fairmount.

But his interest in that 2015 race has faded in recent months. When Pedro Ramos abruptly resigned in October as chairman of the School Reform Commission, Green began lobbying Gov. Corbett for an appointment to lead the agency.

On Friday, Corbett agreed. Green said he would give up his Council seat and suspend his ambitions for mayor or other elective office to make a five-year commitment to the schools.

"This is the hardest and most meaningful thing that can happen to Philadelphia, if we can fix our schools," Green, 48, said Friday in an interview. "If people moved into West Oak Lane or Kensington or Northwood, where I grew up ... and [were able to say], 'I moved here for the schools, because there's a good public school in this neighborhood,' that would transform the city in a way people can't imagine. We'd be two million people again, people would move here from all over the East Coast. . . . As hard as that task is, I feel that I have to try."

Huge task

He will step into one of the toughest jobs in the city - chairing a panel that runs a complex, dysfunctional bureaucracy charged with educating 131,000 students in traditional public schools, and overseeing more than 60,000 others in charter schools.

The district Green inherits is perpetually broke, with many schools lacking full-time counselors, nurses, and adequate supplies, and the SRC itself cannot raise taxes to support them.

The panel must quickly craft a budget for next school year, and while Corbett says he intends to put more state money into public schools, there's no guarantee of additional funds for Philadelphia's deficit-plagued district.

What's more, a widespread cheating probe years in the making is unfolding - three principals were fired Thursday - and the SRC must deal with the continuing fallout. There are decisions to be made about school closings and whether to hand more district schools over to charters.

Some education activists are primed for a fight. Green will face critics because he and his own children, now 21 and 23, did not attend public schools. His friendly views toward charters and vouchers have earned him foes even before he is sworn in.

Foes such as Mayor Nutter. "I find his nomination, quite frankly, perplexing, given his votes against some education funding measures and his published views on public education," Nutter said Friday in a statement. "As mayor, I have a duty to raise these concerns over his appointment."

And the head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Jordan, said his union hopes Green "has reconsidered his past support of vouchers and charter school expansion that would drive millions of dollars away from Philadelphia's public schools."

But Green has admirers, such as the Philadelphia School Partnership, an organization that has amassed millions to help expand successful schools, whether traditional or charter. "Bill Green is an outstanding choice," Mark Gleason, head of the group, said in a statement.

Green reiterated his charter views Friday. "I am a strong believer that quality educational 'seats' need to be provided to the schoolchildren of Philadelphia as quickly as possible," he said. "And I am indifferent as to whether or not that is in a public school or a public charter school, etc."

Asked how he foresees his dealings with School District unions - who have been asked for significant contract concessions - he said: "I think there is no way to bring change unless you're working through teachers, ultimately. . . . So they're an important partner and stakeholder in the work of the SRC. Unfortunately, every partner and stakeholder in this effort is going to have to do things they don't want to do for the schools to be successful, and that includes the PFT."

Green still needs state Senate confirmation for the SRC position, and that's no sure thing.

Republicans who control the Senate may be circumspect about putting a still-ambitious Democrat in a high-profile local post. Many Democrats, closer to organized labor, express concern about Green's views on union concessions and charter schools.

If confirmed, he will have to give up his $125,200-a-year Council salary. The SRC post is unpaid - though Green, a lawyer, intends to keep his outside job with the Duane Morris law firm.

He's a product of a private school, William Penn Charter in East Falls. He attended St. Joseph's University, transferred to and graduated from Auburn University, and got his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

He didn't run for office until he was 42, winning his Council seat in 2007. But because of his lineage - his father was a congressman and one-term mayor, his grandfather a congressman and city Democratic chairman - Green arrived in City Hall with a higher profile than most of his Council colleagues.

'The train'

In Friday's interview, he cited his role in a number of legislative accomplishments over the last six years, such as restructuring the city's business taxes, modernizing the zoning code, and expanding civil rights to the LGBT community.

But he also acknowledged some frustrations.

"We can pass laws but we can't implement them, and don't often agree with how they're implemented," Green said. "I also find the pace of change frustrating, and people's [lack of] willingness to do transformative things, vs. trying to do incremental and marginal things. Because to me, incremental and marginal change isn't going to get us there. The train is still going to hit the wall. And that's true whether it's city government or the School District or anywhere else in Philadelphia."

Did his interest in the SRC post reflect a change of heart about his mayoral prospects?

"If you did a poll right now, I'd win," Green replied with a smile. Then he added: "There is no more important task for the city right now than the efforts of the School District and the SRC, and that's what I want to do."


INSIDE

 Plaudits pour in for Farah Jimenez on the SRC. A18.


warnerb@phillynews.com

215-854-5885

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