Stack Measure Would Abolish School Reform Commission, Create Elected Board
Philadelphia, Aug. 30, 2011 — Standing on the steps of the School District of Philadelphia headquarters, state Sen. Mike Stack today introduced legislation that would eliminate the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) and replace it with an unpaid elected school board.
“The SRC has completely let down our city’s public school students, their families and the taxpayers,” said Stack (D-Phila.). “The last several months have showed the SRC’s dysfunctional governance because they were not prepared to deal with severe, yet anticipated cuts to public school funding.
“When this happened, who could parents and students turn to? Who could they hold accountable for the poor planning? The answer is no one, because under the current system the SRC isn’t accountable to anyone,” he said. “This unelected board is unaccountable to the taxpayers. Yet taxpayers will have to foot the bill through increased property taxes. It’s time to put the power of the School District of Philadelphia into the hands of the citizens whose taxes go to our public schools, and that’s what my legislation accomplishes.”
Under Senate Bill 1210, the school board would be comprised of nine non-partisan members elected by Philadelphia citizens to four-year terms.
The board would be responsible for drafting annual five-year budget plans that would be submitted to the Philadelphia Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for its review and approval.
The board would also have the authority to approve labor, service and other contracts. The board would not have taxing authority or the ability to incur debt. The City Controller and State Auditor General would have pre-audit, post-audit, and performance audit powers over the School District of Philadelphia.
The mayor would appoint the superintendent. The school board would have the power to pass a resolution of no confidence on the superintendent, which would be forwarded to the mayor to decide whether to keep or fire the superintendent. The mayor would also have the power to fire the superintendent at any time for any reason that does not violate the law.
“I believe that the time is right to dissolve the SRC and allow the voters to elect their own school board. The taxpayers of the city want to reform their schools and they deserve transparency and accountability. People need to feel connected,” said state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Phila.). “Since the SRC is comprised of appointees, they are neither responsible nor accountable to the taxpayers. Additionally, academic success continues to elude many of our students. An elected board can go a long way in terms of accountability, community involvement and improved school performance.”
“We need to make some fundamental changes in the School District of Philadelphia, and I believe it has to start at the top,” said state Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-Phila./Montgomery). “An elected school board would be chosen by the taxpayers and would be held accountable to the taxpayers. We don’t want a hand-picked school board. We want to be given a choice. Senator Stack’s legislation gives us that choice.”
“Every other school district in the Commonwealth is governed by a locally elected board. There is no reason why Philadelphians should be deprived of the right to elect school board representatives that are accessible and accountable to their communities,” said state Sen. Andy Dinniman, Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Dinniman has long been a supporter of non-partisan school board elections and has also introduced Senate Bill 327, legislation that would do away with spring-time primary elections for school board. Instead, school board members would be elected only during the November general election and no party affiliation would be listed on the ballot.
“A non-partisan elected school board is a step in the right direction toward providing accountability to Philadelphia taxpayers and moving school reform forward,” Dinniman said.
“It is our duty to provide a quality education to the children of Philadelphia. I fully support Senator Stack’s legislation and would like to thank him for his efforts to collaborate with me on this very important issue,” said state Rep. Angel Cruz (D-Phila.). “I have also introduced my own legislation, House Bill 1550, to create a referendum giving voters the option to determine if the School Reform Commission or an elected school board should control the school district. I’m hoping to hold public hearings on the bill this fall to gauge public input.”
The School Reform Commission, which is responsible for setting the policy direction for the School District of Philadelphia, was created in 2001 after the state took over the city’s public schools because the Secretary of Education declared the school district “financially distressed.” The governor appoints three members and the mayor appoints two members.
“There is no accountability to the taxpayers under this current system,” Stack said. “This legislation would establish a school board that gives the voters the ability to choose the best men and women to tackle the tough issues, maintain fiscal responsibility and set a better course for 154,000 children and the teachers who educate them.”