Estelle Richman has been a School Reform Commission member-in-waiting for nearly six months.
Gov. Wolf nominated her to the SRC in October. Her Senate education committee hearing happened in February. The Pennsylvania Senate is poised to finally confirm her to the Philadelphia School District’s governing body this week - maybe.
Richman, a respected former federal, state and city official who faithfully attends SRC meetings as a member of the public, said she's under the impression that her nomination will be voted on by the full Senate this week, though it's not a lock.
She fully admits she’s frustrated.
“The hard part for me is not knowing whether this will happen,” Richman said. “I try to come to every meeting, but not being able to take part in anything, not being able to be briefed, is tough. It just feels like this is going on forever.”
She’s not naive to the ways of politics. Richman was Gov. Ed Rendell’s public welfare secretary and knows that, as the pick of a Democratic governor with a frosty relationship with the Legislature, her confirmation is not the easiest sell.
“Having been in Harrisburg, my take on this is the Republicans want something from the governor,” Richman said. “I’m not sure what that is.”
Drew Crompton, the top lawyer for Senate Republicans, noted that there’s still time on the clock for Richman’s nomination. Technically, the Senate must act within 25 session days of a nomination being sent to the floor; if the Senate does not act within that time frame, Richman would be automatically confirmed, though that would be a rarity.
“We are continuing to work through this process,” Crompton said. “Philadelphia's school issues are sensitive and important, and we are continuing to do our due diligence on this nominee.”
There is keen interest in Richman’s position on charters, choice and the future of the SRC.
Harrisburg Republicans are generally pro-charter school. Richman, whose daughter is a public-school educator in the Philadelphia suburbs, has said she supports both school choice and adequately funded public schools.
Richman, 73, has also said that she favors local control for Philadelphia schools but does not see the SRC disappearing quickly.
A lengthy confirmation process is not the norm for gubernatorial SRC nominees. The last gubernatorial picks were given a much speedier consideration.
Bill Green and Farah Jimenez were nominated to the panel by then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, in January 2014. They were confirmed by the Republican majority less than a month later and sworn in Feb. 18 of that year.
Richman said she's ready to jump right in. She's particularly interested in issues related to children with special needs, she said.
"What are we doing to make sure these kids aren't forgotten?" Richman asked. "I know many parents are interested in these issues, too."