Members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission are considering dissolving the board by the end of the year, said SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson.
The SRC temporarily replaced the School District of Philadelphia’s school board in 2001 when Pennsylvania took over the city’s public school system. Since then, the SRC has been responsible for traditional school board duties, like preparing the district’s operating budgets and appointing a superintendent.
But the SRC, which is made up of state and city representatives, has been widely criticized. Several North Philadelphians have expressed opposition to the SRC. The largest concern is that the state, which is removed from the issues the city faces, leads the SRC.
Wilkerson, senior adviser to the president at Temple for community relations and development, said many people have been raising the question of whether or not the SRC should be dissolved.
“There are folks who feel that if it happens, it needs to happen by the end of the year,” she said. “And we wanted to put on the table some of the things that we need to think about if we’re going to make a decision about the dissolution of the SRC.”
Another leader from Temple on the SRC is Professor Christopher McGinley, the university’s coordinator for the Educational Leadership Program.
The SRC is also led by former Democratic Councilman-at-Large William J. Green, the nonprofit Philadelphia Education Fund President and CEO Farah Jimenez and Estelle Richman, the former senior adviser to the secretary for Housing and Urban Development. Each member is appointed by the governor or mayor.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the school district’s teachers’ union, has been a longtime opponent of the SRC and proponent for the school district to return to local control with elected officials.
The union’s Communications Director George Jackson said PFT will continue to fight for local control until real action is taken by those leading SRC.
To be dissolved, the SRC must vote itself out of existence.
“If and when the School Reform Commission is dissolved, it would be replaced by a board of public education,” said Miles Shore, the school district’s acting general counsel. Shore spoke at last week’s meeting about the framework that formed the SRC and the legality of its possible disbandment.
This board of education would be made up of nine people. The candidates will come from a 13-person committee appointed by the mayor. The mayor would choose from 27 total candidates, and once chosen, appointed to four-year terms.
“I can’t tell you exactly where people are going to come down on it,” Wilkerson said. “We’re trying to figure out what it is that we would have to establish if we were going to decide.”
“We have not had conversations in executive session that give me any comfort that I know how everyone is going to vote,” she added.
Some Temple students and alumni are leading the fight against the SRC, like 2017 middle grades education alumna Aileen Callaghan and junior social work major Sara Arment. The two are the co-chairs of Reclaim Philadelphia’s Education Task Force, a Philadelphia-wide activist organization campaigning for the dissolution of the SRC.
“They’re making decisions without the consent of Philadelphians,” Arment said. “This has been going on for 16 years now. … People are ready for that to change.”
North Philadelphia residents have also felt the weight of the city’s struggling public education system.
Wanda Alston, 42, is a mother of four children and lives on Oxford Street near 17th. Two of her children are still in the public school system.
Alston said her experience with public schools has been “hard,” but she’s seen an improvement in the last five years. She’s seen class sizes decrease and teachers become more involved with their students.
Still, she is concerned with how Philadelphia and the state will monitor education.
“You try to get your kids in good schools to get them what they need to learn,” she said. “They’re not challenging the kids. They’re just passing them.”
“They’re just lost in the system,” Alston added.
The SRC must vote to abolish itself by December 31, 2017 in order to have a local school board by the 2018-2019 school year.