Residents and education activists joined City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell in a call Monday for an elected school board to replace the School Reform Commission.

"Never has so much money had so little accountability," said Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education, during the hearing before Council's Committee on Education. She was spurred on by a crowd of about 50 with shouts and applause.

The hearing was called by Blackwell, chair of the committee, as a first step in trying to make an elected school board a reality, though she conceded that might be a tough task. State Sen. Michael Stack (D., Phila.) is sponsoring a bill to eliminate the SRC and create a more democratic board.

Under its current structure, three members of the SRC, including the chair, are appointed by the governor. The mayor appoints two.

The hearing came days after the SRC passed a budget that would lay off 3,000 employees, including some teachers; eliminate counselors, librarians, and secretaries; and cut athletic, arts, and music programs. To avoid such cuts, the district is asking for $304 million in additional funding from the city and state, combined with teacher-contract concessions.

Citizens and activists proposed alternatives to the SRC, ranging from a board fully elected by Philadelphians and a blend of elected officials and appointees. The theme of the day was more democracy and more transparency from the individuals charged with directing the schools and their thousands of students.

To change the SRC setup, the governor and Legislature would have to be on board. If that happens, the mayor would be responsible for appointing all board members unless there were a change to the City Charter.

That's not something Mayor Nutter wants to see happen, and his spokesman, Mark McDonald, said the issue was distracting from the more pressing need to find funding sources for the district.

Nutter has proposed raising $95 million next year by taxing cigarettes at $2 a pack and raising the city's liquor-by-the-drink tax from 10 percent to 15 percent, as well as improving tax collections - though his plan has received a lukewarm reception from lawmakers.

"The mayor would argue," McDonald said, "that at this point in time, the last thing we need is more politics in our education system."

Gov. Corbett's office did not return calls seeking comment.

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