Eliminate the School Reform Commission?

Not so fast, Chairman Bill Green said.

Responding to a City Council vote to place on the November ballot a nonbinding referendum asking Philadelphia voters whether they want schools returned to local control, Green was emphatic: the SRC isn't going away yet, and he's not threatened by Council's move, which was spurred by 40,000 city residents signaling they wanted to weigh in on the issue.

"I view it as symbolic," Green said of the referendum. "There's no substance there."

The SRC was created in 2001 by act of the state legislature. It was given special powers to cancel contracts and make extraordinary decisions in times of fiscal distress. (Some of those powers are being tested in court now.)

In order for it to go away, the SRC would have to vote itself out of existence.

That will happen, Green said - eventually.

"The SRC will eliminate itself when our academic and fiscal houses are in order," he said.

For now, the city doesn't have the resources to support the district, the chairman said.

"It is a very bad idea to take away responsibility from Harrisburg for the Philadelphia School District," Green said, adding that whomever would take control of the school system now "better have a whole lot of money."

State funding levels have dropped in recent years, but state dollars still make up more than half of the district's budget, which is currently not large enough to support full-time counselors, nurses and adequate books and supplies at every school.

The SRC chairman, who was until February a council member himself, said he viewed the push to get the issue on the ballot as the work of the national and local teachers' unions, which are wary of the SRC's special powers.

"There was a political effort made by the AFT and PFT," Green said.

Regardless, it appeared on Friday that Council's move came too late to get the issue on the November ballot .

An official with the City Commissioner's office said absentee ballots have already been sent to the printers, meaning the referendum would likely show up on the May ballot.

Mayor Nutter has until Oct. 2 to sign the bill, and Mark McDonald, his spokesman, said Friday that the mayor "will take the time provided to him under the charter to respond."

Even if Nutter does not sign the bill, it's still likely to pass, since Council has the votes to override his veto and put the measure on the May ballot.

--Kristen Graham, Claudia Vargas, and Chris Hepp