Bill Green not surprised he lost SRC chairmanship

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Bill Green (left) promised School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. that "I'd be his blocker and tackler for the length of my term." He says he'll fight his dismissal. YONG KIM / File Photograph

Bill Green was not shocked when Gov. Wolf removed him as School Reform Commission chair, he said Monday, drawing a straight line from his ouster to the governor's perceived alliance with the teachers' union.

"Based on his public campaign and who his financial backers are, I have a sense that we don't agree on the future of the School District," Green said of the governor, who replaced him with Commissioner Marjorie Neff, a retired Philadelphia School District principal.

Wolf wants "more money in the traditional public school model" only, Green said. He has been more open to charter schools and has taken a hard line with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Talks with the PFT have taken a step backward, Green said, because the union has received a boost from its ties to the governor, who also said during his campaign that he would like to eliminate the SRC.

"I think at one point, part of the PFT team told us we were about to get new marching orders," Green said.

Wolf made the stunning change days after the Green-led SRC voted to approve five new charter schools.

The governor had said he believed the cash-strapped district, which faces an $80 million deficit for next school year, could afford no new charters. Neff did not cast a single vote to open a new charter school.

The PFT and the national teachers' union, which invested heavily in Wolf's gubernatorial campaign, strongly opposed new charter schools as well.

Wolf, through his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, rebutted the notion that the governor was beholden to unions.

"This is part of the problem with Bill Green," Sheridan said. "He's concerned about everything but that what actually matters. What actually matters is adequately funded schools, putting resources in the classroom, and students obtaining skills they need to succeed at higher levels."

Sheridan said the timing of Green's removal was unrelated to the charter vote.

"It was the governor's decision to install Marjorie Neff because she shares his vision and is confident she understands needs of the schools," he said.

Talks between the PFT and the district were halted after the SRC unanimously voted in October to cancel the PFT's contract. Commonwealth Court judges recently ruled that action invalid, a decision that has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Green and Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. have said that the two sides, now back at the negotiating table, appear to be further apart.

"Where there may have been some flexibilities, positions have hardened," Hite said. He offered no details.

The district is looking for sweeping changes to work rules, as well as millions in savings by having teachers pay a portion of their health care costs.

Jerry Jordan, the PFT's president, dismissed the notion that the union had anything to do with Green's ouster, though he said he was delighted that the governor chose an educator as the new chairwoman.

But he disagreed with the district's characterization that the union had become less flexible since Wolf took office.

"It was the School District that decided to back away from something that they already agreed upon," Jordan said. He would not elaborate, but said he was holding firm on provisions such as every school having a counselor.

Neff said her position as chair would not change from the one she held as an SRC member. She voted with the rest of the commission to cancel the teachers' contract.

"We have to have a contract that is fiscally responsible and addresses the work rule changes that Dr. Hite believes are necessary for the implementation of his action plan," said Neff, who was the principal of Masterman before retiring from the district. "I am hopeful that we will come to an agreement with the PFT."

Neff took issue with the charter-vs.-district argument.

"I don't think that this ought to be painted as a black and white, either we have charter schools or we have traditional public schools," she said.

Hite, who is preparing to release a plan embodying his vision for the district, said he worried that the SRC leadership issue was a distraction.

"In a time when we really should be talking about investments and budgets and the work that we're trying to accomplish, instead we're talking about governance once again," Hite said.

Green said he believes Wolf lacks the authority to remove him as chairman and will file a legal challenge to the move. He will bankroll it himself, he said.

Harrisburg Republicans, who have been vocally pro-charter-school, said they were also examining the legality of Wolf's move.

Green said he would not resign from the SRC even if his legal action failed.

"I promised Bill [Hite] I'd be his blocker and tackler for the length of my term, and I intend to honor my commitment to him," Green said. "I certainly would not be comfortable giving Gov. Wolf at this point a seat at the table."

Green's ouster could set up an awkward situation. He made it clear Monday that he believed he was still the chairman, but said, "I'm not going to insist on having the gavel at meetings."

Neff and Green had warm words for each other, though, and Green said the two had a "terrific working relationship," which he said he did not expect to change.

"I do not expect there to be any controversy," Green said. "We work as a team together."

He also insisted that he would be able to get along with Wolf, who on Tuesday will introduce a budget likely to call for more funding for Philadelphia schools and greater oversight of charter schools.

"I'm confident that we will be working together for the benefit of the children all spring long," Green said.

 


kgraham@phillynews.com

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Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.