Just two weeks before the Philadelphia School District hopes to close a budget deficit with more state and city funding, its leaders have angered the very two people who could help make it possible - Gov. Rendell and Mayor Street.
Rendell and Street called into question the management capabilities of the School Reform Commission after it unilaterally appointed an interim management team to lead the district without consulting either leader.
In a sharply worded statement issued yesterday, Street and Rendell opposed the commission's decision Wednesday to appoint Thomas M. Brady, a retired U.S. Army officer, as interim chief executive officer of the 174,000-student district. They also complained about the interim appointments of James P. Doosey as chief financial officer and Fred Farlino as chief operating officer.
Rendell and Street said they weren't consulted on the decisions even though the commission promised to work in partnership with them in planning for the departure of chief executive officer Paul Vallas, who has accepted the superintendent's job in New Orleans. They also questioned whether the appointees - including Brady, who has been working in the district for only six weeks - could do the job effectively.
"We are concerned that the three-member interim team that has been appointed does not have the necessary combination of experience, relationships and qualifications needed within the district at this crucial juncture to permit the Philadelphia School District to successfully address the very formidable financial and academic challenges presently faced by the district," they said in a joint news release.
They called the recent announced departures of Vallas and chief financial officer Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis and the looming deficit they leave behind "indications that the SRC is not providing the oversight necessary to ensure fiscal and management stability of the district."
The district faces a $37 million deficit this year and larger shortfalls without tens of million more in state and city revenues.
Just whether the commission will get the additional funding it needs for its proposed $2.18 billion budget appears to be further in question after the interim appointments.
"If you're seeking to get people to increase their investment in you, the last thing you would want to do is put this kind of surprise on the very people you're seeking investments from," said Donna Cooper, Rendell's secretary of policy. "It raises questions about whether we can have confidence that working together on the budget can be an effective partnership."
The district must adopt a budget by May 31.
Commission Chairman James Nevels declined to discuss the criticism but in a statement lauded Rendell and his support of children in Philadelphia. He said he looked forward to "discussion of how we preserve and sustain the unprecedented gains in learning."
There was dissension on the commission over the appointments. Commissioner Sandra Dungee Glenn walked out in protest, saying she hadn't been consulted. The appointments passed, 3-0.
Brady, 56, was hired as the district's chief operating officer in March. He previously served as the chief operating officer of Fairfax County Public Schools and chief business operations officer for the public school system in Washington. Doosey had been the district's interim chief financial officer after the state takeover and has been serving as an internal auditor since the budget deficit surfaced last fall, and Farlino is a longtime district administrator who is returning from retirement.
Cooper said the notification of the appointments didn't come into the governor's office until 1:56 p.m. on Wednesday in a one-sentence e-mail. That was four minutes before the meeting at which the appointments were made started.
"Four minutes doesn't count as notice," she said.
Cooper said the law does not allow Rendell to remove Nevels and Commissioner James Gallagher, the two gubernatorial appointees on the board who voted for the interim appointments. No decision has been made on whether the governor will ask them to step down, she said.
"We have not crossed that bridge yet," she said.
Rendell has a third appointment on the five-member SRC. Denise McGregor Armbrister is expected to take her seat on the board next month, Cooper said.
Rendell and Street also were upset that the commission didn't wait for Armbrister to join the board before making the critical appointments.
They, too, objected that the commission deliberated on possible approval of several new charter schools, which could add costs. The commission postponed action until October.
"For either the city or the state to seriously consider increased contributions to the district, it is essential that all major decisions that affect the district's finances and leadership are fully coordinated with the two governments that fund the district and appoint the members of its governing body," they said.