Burning questions on Philly schools

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Hanako Franz (center) and others protest outside the School District headquarters.

WHO SHOULD run Philadelphia's schools? While that's a question that has been asked almost from the moment the state created the School Reform Commission in 2001, the fact is it's an issue the city has struggled with for decades.

Now, with a number of terms on the SRC ended or about to expire, the question has moved to the forefront - helped along by a public forum last week sponsored by Philadelphia Media Network, Public School Notebook and Drexel School of Education. More than 500 registered for the event, which included a presentation by school governance researcher Dr. Kenneth Wong, professor and director of Urban Education Policy Program at Brown University. (Here is a link to his presentation: www.philly.com/edforum.)

Former school chief Phil Goldsmith provided a brief history of school governance, followed by a panel discussion including City Council President Darrell Clarke; Donna Cooper, executive director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth; Sarah Galbally, secretary of Policy and Planning for Gov. Wolf; Jerry Jordan, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president; Wendell Pritchett, former SRC member and Presidential Professor of Law and Education at University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Robin Roberts, district school parent and organizing member of Parents United for Public Education.

From the lively discussion that evening, it's clear there is no single "best answer" for who should oversee our schools and how that body should operate. Should it be appointed by the mayor and approved by Council? (Clarke and other Council members have argued in favor of this approach.) An elected school board? Some hybrid? Few argued for keeping the status quo.

Even though a clear path to the right governance structure did not emerge, what is clear is that this topic needs ongoing public discussion. Also clear: There is high interest in this topic. And judging from the questions from audience members, that interest is informed and engaged. Below is a sampling of the audience questions. We urge all those interested in the future of schools to keep asking questions and push our elected leaders to help answer them.

* If increased state appropriations are in any way connected to state control, what are the risks that state funding might be in jeopardy if we go to local governance?

* Should those appointed/elected be required to have an education background to run the school district? If so, how can we ensure an operational background to ensure we are running efficiently?

* How will the SRC be "gotten rid of" when the bylaws required that it dissolve itself?

* How can we prevent the interference of outside money in elections for school board?

*  What are some specific ways school governance can actively include and respond to student voices in its decision-making actions?

* Where is the voice of low-income families in each of these governance options? Can we have a city-wide board elected exclusively by parents with children in public and charter schools in Philadelphia?

* Philadelphia is not alone in funding woes: how do we work with other PA districts to get greater support for public education?

* Assuming charters aren't going away, in what way do charters impact school governance?

* Instead of who should run Philadelphia's schools, what about who should set the mission of the Philadelphia schools?

If you want to add your questions to this list, send to sshea@phillynews.com; we will be posting them on philly.com in the near future.

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