Philly schools no longer distressed, top officials say: Harrisburg signs off on SRC dissolution

The SRC voted to dissolve itself at a Nov. meeting. A state education official has given the OK for the state-run panel to disappear June 30.

It’s official: The School Reform Commission will be no more as of June 30, 2018.

Pennsylvania’s top education official this week certified the dissolution of the SRC, which voted last month to abolish itself after 16 years of existence.

Gov. Wolf announced the move Wednesday, saying the Philadelphia School District has improved to the point where it is no longer distressed and that “local control with strong state support will make the district stronger.”

“Restoring district operations to a locally selected board of education will only allow those improvements to continue, and will better serve the needs of the district’s students and schools,” Wolf said in a statement. “I commend Mayor Kenney, Superintendent Hite, and the administrators, teachers, and parents of the Philadelphia School District for their commitment to improving public education in our largest city. I also want to thank the members of the SRC for their efforts and work over the years.”

Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera signed off on the move, citing the “financial and academic improvements made during the tenure of the SRC.” He also said that he did not believe the end of the SRC would negatively affect the district.

“Over the past 16 years, the district has overcome many challenges, despite the many difficulties facing public school districts all over the country and the limitations imposed on the powers of the SRC,” said Rivera, a former Philadelphia teacher, administrator, and union official. “After an extensive review, the Department of Education has determined that the district has made financial and academic improvements during the tenure of the SRC and the district no longer exhibits the factors that caused it to be placed in distress.”

Rivera said he was satisfied with the district’s plan to transition control from the SRC to a nine-member local school board.

But he acknowledged that the new board would have a lot on its plate.

“While I commend the SRC and the district for its work to improve the academic and financial condition of the district, I am also aware that the mayorally appointed board of education will continue to face many challenges as it becomes the governing authority for the district, including addressing the district’s projected deficit,” Rivera wrote in a letter to Joyce Wilkerson, the current SRC chair.

Ultimately, Rivera wrote, the SRC would be no better able to face those challenges than a local board.

“Indeed, I put considerable weight on the representations of the SRC, the district’s administrative leadership, and Mayor Kenney, City Council, and other city leadership that control of the district by a local board of education will increase opportunities for collaboration by local officials in order to address the potential deficit and other challenges,” Rivera said.

The city must quickly pivot to a new governance structure for its public school system, which educates 130,000 students in traditional public schools and an additional 65,000 in 84 charter schools.

Wilkerson, in a statement, thanked the Education Department for its work.

“This is an important next step to return our schools to local control,” Wilkerson said.

Mike Dunn, a spokesman for Kenney, said the timeline for a new school board remains the same: The city will soon announce a nominating panel to gather suggestions and recommend 27 names for consideration as board members. Ultimately, Kenney will make the final selections.

City Council will have some say, though the details of that have not been finalized.

“We appreciate that the secretary of education agreed with our conclusion that now is the time to return to local control,” Dunn said in a statement. “We look forward to announcing the nominating panel in January and releasing a public form in which interested applicants for the school board can submit their information.”

Though the nominating panel has not yet been announced, jockeying for positions on the new board has already begun.

Our City Our Schools, a grassroots group that has been key in pushing for an end to the SRC, has announced its slate of 11 candidates — nine adults and two students — that it wants named to the board, a list heavy on public school parents and champions of progressive causes.

 

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