Bill Green is a difficult man for a difficult job

Bill Green will leave Councilto chair Phila. school panel.
Bill Green will leave Councilto chair Phila. school panel. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff)
Posted: January 23, 2014

Bill Green is a smart but difficult man. He does not play well with others, and the difficulty often arises when he shows them how smart he is.

Then again, Green's a member of City Council, where there's not much competition for summa cum laude and Penn Law graduates, and veteran members view themselves as royalty and expect reverence. Green managed to annoy most of them in no time flat, for which I am eternally grateful.

But Green might have achieved more with less arrogance. He had only to consult Michael Nutter's similarly difficult history with Council.

Plenty of lesser intellects have accomplished more than Green has on Council. He wrote two ambitious position papers on education - the first was 62 pages long - that went nowhere. Which is probably a good thing, given that, back in 2010 and 2011, he advocated more charter schools and vouchers, and splitting oversight in half. He says his views on the district have since evolved.

Green tends not to care what people think, which makes him sort of a lousy politician. He arrived in Council with few friends and will leave with even fewer, which helped thwart his plans to run for mayor.

Yet give him credit for trying something new. The Democratic politician, son of a mayor and grandson of a congressman, plans to leave his at-large Council spot to chair the School Reform Commission, pending approval by the state Senate.

It would be Green's impossible job to fix the city's biggest problem. While the city's murder rate plummeted an astounding 25 percent in 2013, most of the schools still stink. So far, serving as SRC chair has not proven to be a springboard to higher office.

The School District's oversight and half its funding are controlled by Republican-run Harrisburg, which has proven to be a petulant, erratic babysitter. Being SRC chair pays squat - weep not for Green, a corporate lawyer and special counsel at Duane Morris - yet demands extraordinary hours and headaches. The teachers' union is working without a contract, while the district seeks $100 million in concessions.

So there's fun for everyone.

Patience has never been Green's strong suit. In this job, he will have to be more conciliatory.

Green is a big fan of Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. Many of us are. Hite appears to be the right man who arrived at the worst possible moment for the district.

"I have an opportunity to go into that morass and make meaningful change. There's no greater opportunity," Green told me. Unlike "demagoguing politicians," he said, he would have no problem enduring hours of distraught parents yelling at him. We'll see about that.

In record time, Mayor Nutter criticized Republican Gov. Corbett's decision to nominate Green, which is something. Nutter has been loath to criticize the governor on education - where Corbett's been dreadful - given the School District's dependence on state funding. His silence about the governor has earned him more wrath from the union and school activists.

The mayor found Green's nomination "quite frankly, perplexing." (Really? Green's past support of vouchers and charters is in keeping with Republican ideology.) Nutter noted that "if your record has not been one of significant, strong, long-term support" for public schools, "that gives one concern."

The teachers' union also chimed in, reversing course to actually agree with Nutter. About Green, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan "has concerns."

Strangely, all this carping made Green look more admirable for offering to step into the position. The district has been rocked by a test-cheating scandal implicating 138 educators, and is now under criminal investigation by the state attorney general. There's also the contract to settle, and additional state funds to secure from recalcitrant Republicans.

Maybe we need a smart, difficult man to head the SRC.


kheller@phillynews.com215-854-2586 @kheller

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