Council approves voter referendum on abolishing SRC

City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell pushed for a ballot referendum, asking voters if they want to abolish the School Reform Commission. The referendum has no legal authority to end the SRC.

City Council today approved in a 15-1 vote a measure to place on the ballot a non-binding referendum asking voters if they want to abolish the School Reform Commission.

The question now: Will Mayor Nutter sign the legislation into law, allowing the measure to appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot?

Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, the measure's sponsor, apologized to a raucous crowd of union members and activists who were disappointed when she did not bring the subject up for a vote last week.

Blackwell said she held off on the vote after hearing concerns about sending "mixed messages" to Harrisburg while the General Assembly considers a $2-per-pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia to help close the School District's budget deficit.

The state House is scheduled to vote on the cigarette tax Monday.  The state Senate will schedule a vote if the tax is approved by the House.

Councilman Bill Greenlee cast the lone vote against the measure, citing his belief that non-binding referendums should not be placed on the ballot. He was loudly booed by the audience until Council President Darrell Clarke asked them to stop.

"In short, I don't think the City Charter should be an opinion poll," Greenlee said.

If approved by voters, the referendum has no legal power to change the status of the SRC.

The state took over the School District in 2001, replacing the local nine-member Board of Education with a five-member SRC. The mayor had previously appointed Board of Education members. The governor now selects three SRC members while the mayor selects two.

The district has continued to struggle with budget deficits under state control. Blackwell said it was time for a change.

"If we want different results than we can't do the same things that we've done," she said.

Jerry Jordan, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, called the failure to vote on the measure last week a "shocking disappointment" by Council.  He cited more than 40,000 signatures gathered on petitions in support of the referendum as reason to approve it.

After the vote, Blackwell said Nutter needs to sign into law the referendum legislation by tomorrow to get the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.  Referendums must be submitted 45 days before the election to get on the ballot, she said,

Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said: "The mayor will give it the appropriate consideration."