Philadelphia schools don't need SRC rubberstamp

Heidi Ramirez smiled broadly when Gov. Rendell announced her appointment to the School Reform Commission. She resigned the seat last week. (ERIC MENCHER / Staff Photographer)

Heidi Ramirez was considered the most outspoken member of the city’s School Reform Commission, so great care must be taken in replacing her. The SRC should never be a rubberstamp.

Ramirez made the surprise announcement last week that she was leaving the SRC. She has been a staunch advocate for children and deserves the city’s gratitude for her dedicated service.
Gov. Rendell said Ramirez would be “the most qualified” SRC member when he nominated her to a five-year term. The SRC’s first Latina holds a Ph.D. in education and heads Temple University’s Urban Education Collaborative. A year ago, Ramirez said she would know she was “doing a good job if” … most school-reform time “is spent not on politics and policy, but rather on improving what happens in the classroom.”
Politics may have won out. There was speculation that Rendell and State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) used Ramirez’s SRC post as a bargaining chip in trying to end the state budget impasse. Pileggi denied that, but did say that he had been consulted about a possible replacement for Ramirez.
She was often the only SRC member to publicly question Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. At last week’s SRC meeting, she cast the sole dissenting vote on a measure letting actor Tony Danza film a reality show at Northeast High School. Danza will co-teach a class of handpicked students.
Ackerman often seemed visibly upset by the pointed questions Ramirez would raise, and she admitted Friday that she and Ramirez often didn’t see eye to eye. But the superintendent said, “I don’t want to be the scapegoat for why she resigned. … It was her decision.”
So Ramirez is leaving, but that doesn’t mean pointed questions shouldn’t be asked in a school system where too many children fail. Raising pointed questions is exactly why the SRC was created by the state in 2002. It’s the commission’s job to provide strong oversight of a $3.2 billion budget, mostly funded with state tax dollars, and make the 167,000-student district fully functional.
That’s Ackerman’s goal, too. And in her first year, she has put forth good ideas to accomplish that. But her strong presence has relegated the SRC to what many describe as a ceremonial role, and Ramirez apparently decided she couldn’t stomach that.
Without someone with Ramirez’s persistence, the SRC runs the risk of losing all appearance of legitimacy, said Helen Gym, of Parents United for Public Education. But that won’t happen if the remaining commissioners step up to the plate — and they must.
Ramirez says she will remain on board until her successor is named. Rendell should move quickly, but he must choose someone with the same commitment.