Mayor Kenney says he needs more candidates for possible school board seats

Wendell Pritchett (center) speaks to fellow members of the Philadelphia School Board nominating panel on Feb. 26.

Mayor Kenney has asked the nominating panel that last week presented him with 27 candidates for seats on the new school board to send him additional names, saying he needs a wider pool from which to choose the Philadelphia School District’s governing body.

Kenney, in a letter to the 13-member panel Thursday, said he wants to consider a more diverse group of candidates, with more parents and educators among them.

“I may appoint all nine board members from the panel’s initial list of 27,” Kenney wrote. “However, given the importance of these appointments, I would welcome further recommendations from the panel in order to allow me to appoint the strongest board possible.”

Kenney said he wants at least 18 new candidates and not more than 27. He said he felt those with “professional and governmental experience” were well represented, but asked for a more “diverse pool that more strongly represents parents and current or former primary- or secondary-level educators. As we review the overall makeup of the appointments, it is important that the members represent all Philadelphians.”

The nominating panel, chaired by Wendell Pritchett, the University of Pennsylvania provost and former School Reform Commission member, has until March 18 to come up with the new recommendations.

After the meeting at which the nominating panel submitted to Kenney the 27 original names, Pritchett said he was satisfied with what he termed a “very strong” group of candidates. But, he said, the pool was not perfect, as the panel was limited by the applications submitted.

“I wish that we had more applications from more areas of the city,” Pritchett said after that meeting. He said he wished more people who lived in parts of North and Northeast Philadelphia were among the group the nominating panel had to choose from.

About 500 people applied or were nominated for consideration for the school board, which will take over governing the Philadelphia School District, its 216 schools, and $3 billion budget on July 1. The district educates 130,000 students in traditional public schools and an additional 65,000 in charters.

To arrive at its first list, each member of the panel individually reviewed every application. The nominators interviewed about 80 people in person.

Kenney’s request shifts the school board timeline somewhat: He will have 20 days after the nominating panel submits its new round of names to make his final selections. Initially, the mayor’s office said he would have board members chosen by the end of March, but that date could get pushed back.

Board members, once named, will begin training immediately.

The current nominees include two current SRC members, Christopher McGinley and Joyce Wilkerson, the SRC chair.

Pritchett was traveling and unavailable for comment, but has said the panel made its list deliberately, knowing that Kenney might ask it for more names. He said the panel would be prepared to come up with more names from among the group of Philadelphians it already had interviewed.

Jane Slusser, Kenney’s chief of staff, said the mayor’s asking the panel for more names was not a repudiation of its original group of nominees, which she called an “all-star list.” But, she said, a number of people on the list are not well known.

“We’re not 100 percent sure that everybody is going to make it through,” said Slusser. “This is going to give us an opportunity to expand that pool. The people that we don’t know as well are the parents and the educators on the list, and we want to make sure we have more of those folks to choose from.”

Slusser said Kenney’s senior staff has begun interviewing candidates from among the existing list and will continue to do so. Eventually, nominees will meet with the mayor himself.

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