Wolf strips Green of SRC chairmainship

Days after Bill Green defied Gov. Wolf by voting to approve new charter schools, the governor has stripped Green of his chairmanship of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

Marjorie Neff, a retired Philadelphia public school principal, will be the new chair of the five-member governing body of the Philadelphia School District, she confirmed Sunday.

A spokesman for Wolf confirmed the governor's move Sunday night after Green made his demotion public. Wolf's spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, said the district needed a change in leaders.

Green, who will continue serving as a commission member, said he would fight the demotion in court.

The move comes less than two weeks after a controversial SRC vote to approve five new charter schools. Wolf had instructed Green to approve no new charters, saying their creation would drain millions from district finances. In contrast, Republican leaders in the legislature had wanted the panel to green-light up to 27 charters.

Both sides threatened consequences if their wishes were not followed.

Green, in a statement, said he believed Wolf lacked legal authority to remove him as chair. He will file a suit in state Commonwealth Court, he said, but will work with Neff in the interim.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett named Green to the SRC in 2014. Neff is a mayoral pick, but the governor chooses the SRC chair.

Neff, who retired last year as principal of the highly regarded Masterman school, did not cast a single vote to approve any new charters.

Neff said Sunday night Wolf had called personally to ask her to serve as chair. He didn't mention charter schools in the call, she said.

"I decided to do it because the governor wanted me to work on his vision for education and I wanted to contribute to it," she said.

Green said Neff told him she believed he was doing an excellent job but the governor's people told her Wolf couldn't work with Green as chair.

For her part, Neff would not venture an opinion Sunday about why Wolf acted. "You'll have to ask the governor," she said.

House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), who had pushed hard for an expansion of city charters, said Green's ouster "seems punitive."

He added: "It is reflective really of the governor's anti-school-choice perspective. He's taken a position with the teachers' unions and opposed to charters."

The move could throw the commission into turmoil. Despite some dissention on the recent charter votes, the SRC - which also includes gubernatorial picks Feather Houstoun and Farah Jimenez and mayoral nominee Sylvia Simms - has worked well and usually voted together.

But the governor's move seems likely to create tension and could even split the SRC, which will soon introduce a budget for the 2015-16 school year.

The district already faces an $80 million deficit, and will lobby hard in Harrisburg and City Hall for more money.

Green also said he was "very concerned . . . about the message this sends" to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, a foe of charter-school expansions.

He said the union had stonewalled during labor negotiations, refusing to budge on "benefits reforms and essential work-rule changes."

He added: "It is unfortunate that the governor is acting to support the national agenda of financial backers who oppose education reform" that would change work rules and pay.

For his part, Jerry Jordan, president of the union, called the change "a very, very wise decision."

Jordan said it was significant that Neff would be the first educator to chair the system's board since the late Ruth Wright Hayre was president 22 years ago.

Green, a Democrat, lawyer, and son of a former Philadelphia mayor, quit City Council in midterm last year to join the SRC as chairman. He was widely seen as having mayoral ambitions before he changed jobs, but he promised when he joined the commission to serve a full five-year term.

Mayor Nutter, through spokesman Mark McDonald, said Wolf, a Democrat, had the authority to select the SRC chairman. "We respect the governor's decision," McDonald said.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat, said he was pleased with Neff's appointment.

He said the governor had pledged to pay special attention to education funding, especially in Philadelphia.

"I think this is the first round, and the second round is coming on Tuesday," Hughes said. Wolf introduces his first budget on Tuesday.

Green, in a statement, said he had "tremendous respect for Commissioner Neff and her years of service to the district."

Neff had similar praise for him.

"I'm glad Bill Green has decided to stay on the SRC. He's been a good leader under very difficult circumstances over the past year."

 


kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146 @newskag

www.philly.com/schoolfiles

Inquirer staff writer Joseph N. DiStefano contributed to this article.