Jim Kenney's plan to rescue public education in Philadelphia
The creation of a School Board that will return to the city full political and budgetary control of education is the bet of the local administration to improve the quality of education in the public and charter schools of Philadelphia.
This Thursday, at the Council's premises, Mayor Jim Kenney announced his plan to rescue the Philadelphia School District from a possible financial deficit and guarantee the access of all children in the city to quality education.
Apparently, the plan is simple: dismantle the School Reform Commission (SRC), under the control of Harrisburg for 16 years, and replace it with a School Board appointed directly by the Mayor of Philadelphia.
Considering the enormous difficulties that Pennsylvania is facing to cover its $ 2.2 billion fiscal hole and the fact that the SRC projects a deficit of almost one billion in the budget of the School District of Philadelphia for 2022, the mayor asked the SRC to vote on its own dissolution in the meeting that the body will have next November 18.
"At present, the responsibility [on the School District] is diffuse between three different bodies: the mayor, the governor and the General Assembly. Frequently, that responsibility is further blurred because members of the SRC remain in office even after the mayor and the governor who appointed them leave theirs," Kenney said.
The idea of the head of the municipal government is to return to the city the financial and political power of its educational system, which includes public and the so-called charter schools.
To achieve this, Kenney needs a couple of things beyond his control to happen: One: that the SRC accepts his request and decides to dissolve - something that the local administration takes for granted. And two: that the State Secretary of Education confirms that decision 180 days before the end of the school year - something that they also take for granted - and thus clear the way for the mayor to name a new body.
While this is happening, Kenney will have to create a 13-member School Nominating Panel by the end of the year, whose mission will be to receive the nominations, study them and suggest the candidates to form the new Philadelphia School Board - a 9-member body that will report back directly to the head of the local administration.
"The success of our children and of Philadelphia depends on the quality of our schools and we are leaving the future of our city in the hands of others. If we don’t have quality schools in each neighborhood, the people who have contributed to slow the population decline will not stay and the children of those families with limited resources will not be ready to compete in the economy of the 21st century," said the burgomaster.
In a speech unanimously applauded by the attendees, the mayor noted that one of the main reasons for this measure is that the SRC projects a $ 105 million deficit in the education budget of Philadelphia for the 2018-2019 fiscal period.
That fiscal gap could reach a billion dollars in 2022 if the control of the School District is still in Harrisburg. In other words, the mayor's plan is to avoid at all costs that the School District continue to suffer budget cuts at the expense of the quality of public education.
Candidates for the new School Board must demonstrate extensive experience in areas such as administration, education, public policy and community affairs. It is anticipated that even parents of students from public and charter school will be represented in that body.