Philadelphia, Nov. 16, 2017 – The following is testimony submitted by Mayor James F. Kenney and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke to the School Reform Commission (SRC) on SRC-3, a resolution that recommends dissolution of the SRC:
For reasons we’ll discuss in the rest of this testimony, it is our firm belief that governance by the School Reform Commission (SRC) is no longer necessary, and that this body should recommend its dissolution to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education.
It is undeniable that Philadelphia’s success is dependent on our schools. Over the past 16 years, since the imposition of this body, Philadelphians have been without direct control and accountability for the School District.
Over that time period, periods of great instability have been interspersed with periods of stability and improvement. This SRC, specifically over the past two years, has overseen one such period of stability, buoyed by the financial support of the City of Philadelphia, totaling over $500 million in new recurring annual revenue over the past six years. With these additional resources and disciplined financial planning and management, the School District has had multiple years of balanced budgets. The District now has contracts with each of its bargaining units, and there have been improvements in both student test score achievement and the high school graduation rate. We believe now is the right time to return to local control, and that doing so will only further enhance opportunities for improvement of educational outcomes.
The end of the SRC will return governance of the School District of Philadelphia to a Board of Education appointed by the Mayor, and confirmed by City Council. This Board, and the City as a whole, will be focused on ensuring success for the School District in four specific areas: accountability, collaboration, adequate resources, and strong management.
There is stability and positive momentum within the School District because local government partners are collaborating and working toward a shared vision of equitable educational opportunities for every child in Philadelphia. We are overseeing key initiatives such as offering free, quality pre-K to an additional 2,000 children; partnering with the District on community schools to serve an additional 6,500 students and their families; and partnering with entities like the Philadelphia Housing Authority on innovative cross-sector partnerships such as that found in Vaux Big Picture School. Without additional assistance from the Commonwealth, we have been enhancing City support for the most disadvantaged children so that every classroom and every school fosters a productive learning environment.
In other words, this administration and City Council have already taken on greater responsibility for an organization with which we have no direct oversight or authority relationship. The people we represent, the residents and voters of Philadelphia, deserve direct accountability from the District that serves their children. We believe a local school board that is appointed by the Mayor and publicly vetted and confirmed by City Council is the appropriate vehicle for that accountability.
In order to protect and accelerate hard-won progress in the District, we must ensure that our schools have adequate resources and strong leadership. During the past 15 years of SRC control, we’ve had three superintendents, with Dr. William Hite serving the longest term. Dr. Hite’s leadership has delivered not just for students, but for taxpayers as well – thanks to proven fiscal oversight by District CFO, Uri Monson.
The Commonwealth as a whole faces enormous fiscal challenges. Lowered credit ratings linked to analyst warnings about budgeting practices adopted by the General Assembly have only worsened the outlook for Pennsylvania. While we refuse to let the General Assembly off the hook for providing the thorough and efficient education required under the Pennsylvania Constitution, we also know we must face the reality that they have consistently proven unwilling to face that responsibility. In the meantime, we understand that Philadelphia must make the sacrifices necessary to provide the resources all students in Philadelphia schools need to succeed. For that reason, we believe the time to dissolve the SRC and to reclaim local authority over the School District is right for all funding partners, including the General Assembly. Dissolution of the SRC will strengthen the existing partnership between the Commonwealth, City, and District.
Local control will also allow our City government and School District to join forces with districts and municipalities across the Commonwealth that are pushing for equitable and apolitical school funding reform – which right now is the subject of a major legal action that will soon be considered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
We humbly ask the Commissioners here, each of whom has given of themselves to Philadelphia public school students, to now stand alongside us in the fight for equity and justice for all students.
The time is right to return the School District of Philadelphia to local control and accountability. We ask for your approval of this Resolution.
# # #