SRC asks top court to reconsider school code case

Posted: March 04, 2016

In a bid to undo last month's devastating state Supreme Court ruling that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission has no power to suspend parts of the state school code, the SRC has asked the court to reconsider its decision.

The SRC said in documents filed with the court Monday that the decision "invalidated an essential tool provided by the legislature to address the School District of Philadelphia's ongoing financial and educational crisis at a time when the district is struggling to carry out its constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education" to city public school students.

By a 4-2 vote in mid-February, the court declared that a provision in state law that the SRC had used to cancel parts of the school code was unconstitutional. The commission had relied often on this special power in the last few years to close schools, bypass seniority in teacher assignments, and limit charter school growth.

The ruling came in response to a suit filed by West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School that contended that the part of the state takeover law the SRC used in 2013 to force charters to agree to enrollment caps was unconstitutional.

Robert W. O'Donnell, West Philadelphia Achievement's lawyer, said Wednesday: "We consider the matter resolved."

A spokesman for the state Supreme Court said applications for reconsideration are circulated among the judges "in relatively short order."

Approvals, he said, are relatively rare.

In documents asking for reconsideration, the SRC said the court had overlooked or misunderstood part of the law that led to the state takeover of the district in 2001.

The commission also warned that the court's decision could have potentially "catastrophic" consequences for the district, especially if it was required to fund unrestricted growth at the 83 charter schools in the city.

The district already spends over $750 million on payments to charters for 69,906 city students who attend.

"In view of the very high stakes at issue here and the court's apparent oversight of some critical facts and legal principles that are applicable, the district and the SRC respectfully request that the court give this case another look," the SRC said.

The state Department of Education and Secretary Pedro A. Rivera filed a statement with the court Tuesday in support of reconsideration.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789@marwooda

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