Green files suit to get SRC chairmanship back

School Reform Commission member and former Chairman Bill Green listens to a question from a reporter concerning the lawsuit he is bringing to try to regain his post.

Bill Green believes he knows a way to help the beleaguered Philadelphia schools: restore him to his job as chairman of the School Reform Commission.

On Tuesday, he formally announced the filing of a lawsuit that aims to lift him from the ranks of commission membership and place him back at its head.

State legislators "might have more confidence in sending the district money" if he were in charge, he said after a news conference at School District offices.

His main purpose in suing to overturn his ouster by Gov. Wolf, Green said, is to prove a point of law, and protect the independence of the SRC and the office of chairman.

Not everyone saw it that way.

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an advocacy group, said Green's "pointless power grab" diverts attention from the SRC's inability to provide safe and effective city schools.

It called on Green to drop his suit, filed in Commonwealth Court.

In a statement, Wolf asserted his legal right to replace Green.

"Gov. Wolf will continue fighting for more funding for education and to provide a new path forward for Philadelphia's schools," the statement said.

Wolf removed Green as chair of the five-person SRC in March 2015, reducing his role to commission member. The governor replaced Green with Commissioner Marjorie Neff, a retired principal.

Neff said the lawsuit would not affect the work of the commission.

"We respect one another and work well together," she said. "We remain focused on the students of Philadelphia and the critical work of governance."

Commissioner Farah Jimenez said Green gave the commissioners advance notice of his plans.

"I think it's fair for him to want to get clarity with respect to the law," she said. "I think it's a task worth doing."

Jimenez, appointed by former Gov. Tom Corbett, said Green's lawsuit should not be seen as a slap at Neff.

"We are supportive of one another, so you will see no change in the way we conduct ourselves," she said.

Green contends he was removed after voting to approve five of 39 applications for charter schools. Wolf opposed opening more charters in the city.

Neff voted against all the applications.

"I've been waiting to assert my rights at an appropriate time that would not be a distraction to the district," Green said Tuesday. "I have found I was able to contribute more as chair than as a member."

Green, a Democrat, was appointed to the SRC in January 2014 by Corbett, a Republican. The lawyer and former City Council member interprets the law as saying the governor cannot remove an SRC member without proof of wrongdoing and written notice.

Green said in an Inquirer opinion column on Tuesday that Wolf's opposition to new charter schools was shared by teachers' unions "that lavished $1.6 million to elect him."

Green is represented by the Fairness Center, a Harrisburg nonprofit law firm that offers free services to those it says face "unjust treatment from public employee union leaders."

"The law is very clear," said David Osborne, center president and general counsel. "This is not about Bill Green. This is about protecting the integrity of an independent office."

Green said that after he was removed and first considered filing suit, many people urged him to wait and give the new governor a chance, saying a legal challenge might raise tensions in Harrisburg and risk funding for the schools.

In the last year, Green said, it has become clear that the governor's strategies have been unsuccessful, so a suit could do no harm.

martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789 @marwooda