Philadelphia School Reform Commission is dissolved

The School Reform Commission was voted to conclude 3–1, opening the gateway to independent control.

After 16 years of leading the School District of Philadelphia, the School Reform Commission voted to abolish itself on Nov. 16.

The conclusion of the state-influenced board means that governance of the district will return to Philadelphia independently. The resolution states that the district is no longer in financial distress, though it also means the city will have to foot the bill for a looming budget deficit that will grow in coming years. Mayor Jim Kenney has not yet laid out a clear plan.

Mayfair native board member Christopher McGinley was one of three ruling “yes” votes. Board Chair Joyce Wilkerson and Estelle Richman sided with him. Farah Jimenez abstained while William Green gave the sole “no” vote, stating he was in favor of independent control, but wanted to see a more structured financial plan first.

The Northeast Times talked to McGinley in July, when he said he felt he had to “put up or shut up” with his criticisms of the district by joining the board to change them.

“This is a new opportunity for the city,” McGinley said in a statement after the vote. “A nine-member board with an active committee structure can better engage with the public and provide the voices best that represent the children and the families.”

He’s referring to the new school board that will replace the SRC when it officially folds on June 30, 2018.

The mayor will nominate the members of the nine-member school board, who will be approved by a different panel of 13 individuals. Officials said the board will be chosen by March to ease the transition.

McGinley described his own experience as a Philadelphia student as a “mixed bag,” saying he had great teachers but he “knew what a bad teacher looked like.”

“I always wanted to emphasize connecting with students in my classroom,” he said.

McGinley joined the board at the beginning of the year, and saw major changes like the contract that raised teachers’ salaries for the first time in five years.

“Moving forward we will need activist leaders on the new board who can stand on the shoulders of leaders of the past as they look to the future,” he said in his statement. “The service of dedicated volunteers who serve on school boards is an essential element of every successful school district.”

The decision was met with general approval from district teachers, though it does raise the question on where the city will get the funds for the looming deficit.

The vote will not impact state funding. The 2017–2018 operating budget showed that the state funded $1.57 billion this year, which made up 53 percent of the total.

However, there’s the looming budget deficit as expenditures outpace revenue, which is currently predicted to leave the district down by almost a billion dollars by 2022. With the district back in city control, the city will be expected to cover the cost.

Both Kenney and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke have said that depending on Harrisburg was no longer an option.

“If you cut all the resources out of the school and expect them to be successful, you’re crazy. You see when you invest in our kids, they succeed,” Kenney told the Northeast Times after announcing improved high school graduation rates at Abraham Lincoln High School.

The vote does not affect district superintendent Dr. William R. Hite, who spoke to the Northeast Times about the future of the school district at Lincoln.

“We are going to see more children reading on a grade level, and we want to see more children graduate with the ability to enter the college or the job of their choice,” he said. “In the end we want to see more children who feel comfortable, safe and supported in their school.”

McGinley is already looking forward, saying he has confidence in Kenney and Hite to continue their “good service.”

“Good school boards value teachers, school leaders and engage with the community in meaningful work and discuss critical issues in public with parents, staff members and community members,” he said in his statement. “I have been fortunate to have worked for some wonderful school boards in the past and will work to support the new board.” ••