Philadelphia Board of Education member Lee Huang has submitted his resignation, he said Tuesday, meaning a full third of the school board is turning over.
The seats formerly held by Christopher McGinley and Ameen Akbar are currently vacant, and Mayor Jim Kenney has said he will soon reconvene the nominating panel to come up with a list of possible replacements.
It’s unlikely any new members will be seated until February or March. Huang will remain on the board until his replacement is sworn in.
The nine-member board currently has six sitting members. Mallory Fix Lopez is on medical leave but is scheduled to return Dec. 1.
Huang, a parent of three children in city public schools, always meant to serve just a few years on the board, he said. When he was promoted recently to president of the economic consulting firm Econsult Solutions, he told Board President Joyce Wilkerson that the time had come.
Wilkerson, in a statement, praised Huang as a “vital voice in establishing the board and keeping us focused on student learning. His presence and insight will be deeply missed.”
In his two years on the board, Huang built a reputation as thoughtful and unafraid to speak out, with expertise in financial matters.
With COVID-19 bearing down, Huang in September raised the specter of school closings and layoffs in the future. The district is facing $80 million in unexpected pandemic costs and had already been projecting a long-term deficit, due in large part to the structural financial problems associated with not being able to raise its own revenue or control payments to charter schools.
Despite President-elect Joe Biden’s promises of more money for public education, the district and the board will still face a tough road ahead, Huang said.
“The objective is to advance student achievement in the real world climate that we have of limited resources, and so as hard as school closures or layoffs or other difficult cost-cutting measures are to contemplate, we would be irresponsible to not contemplate them, and we would also not be doing the public a service … well in advance of any specific decisions that we might have to make," said Huang.
The unpaid school board job took up at least 10 hours a week and often more, Huang said. And it carries an “emotional burden,” he said — the responsibility of knowing that you’re helping determine the fate of 200,000 children in district and charter schools, the weight of steering an organization with a $3.5 billion budget.
But the work was joyous, too, Huang said. Pre-COVID-19, school visits, when he had the chance to get down to eye level with children and ask them what they liked about school and what could be better, were centering.
“It just really kind of underscored the preciousness and importance of what we’re doing,” he said. “This has been the service opportunity of a lifetime."