There is little appetite for a tax increase to help Philadelphia schools. School Reform Commission members can spend 20 hours a week, easily, on their unpaid and often frustrating job. Contract negotiations with the teachers' union are proceeding, even if the union doesn't find them productive.
And, yes, the SRC talks behind closed doors about eliminating itself. (But says it's not the right time yet.)
Those and other tidbits came to light during a Monday meeting at which the commission attempted to be more responsive to parents and community members. Four commissioners - Sylvia Simms was absent - sat in armchairs facing the audience, fielding questions in an Oprah-style format.
Chairwoman Marjorie Neff said she and others were working to address City Council's recent frustration, expressed at a budget hearing. Council members have said the district is not responsive or transparent enough.
The district is asking for $105 million in new annual funds from Council and more than $200 million from the state. Mayor Nutter has proposed raising the city's share through a property-tax hike.
Neff said officials had been clear with Council about their funding challenges and how they had spent previous money allocated by the city, but she said that "maybe we need to do a little better job communicating with individual Council people."
Neff said she had a conversation recently with one Council member, whom she declined to name, and that member told her that Council members did not hear many of their constituents echoing the passionate arguments for more funding advanced by district staff.
"There's no appetite in this city for raising taxes," Neff said the Council member told her.
Commissioner Feather O. Houstoun, responding to another question, said the decision to shutter 32 schools over the last several years was difficult but financially necessary.
School closings were "responsible leadership on the part of Dr. Hite, but also on the part of those of us on the SRC for the last three years," she said, referring to Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.
A few dozen community members showed up, and more submitted questions electronically. Some walked out halfway through the meeting, angry at what they perceived to be a lack of genuine dialogue with the SRC.
Gail Clouden, who goes by "Mama Gail" and is a frequent critic of the district, led the charge.
"Do you realize this is a joke? This crap is why parents don't come out. You can't treat people any kind of way. You don't get it," she said.
Asked about the challenges that come with being an SRC member, Commissioner Bill Green said that when he and others were appointed, they thought they could just sweep red tape out of the way and "make good stuff happen."
But that isn't always possible.
It has been "frustrating to see the bureaucracy get in the way," Green said.
Both Green and Commissioner Farah Jimenez addressed the idea of disbanding the SRC, which was never meant to be a permanent board.
Green said he believed Harrisburg leaders are now confident in the SRC, and if that structure goes away, any extra funds the state is willing to give will go with it. (He also took a swipe at pre-2011 SRCs, which he said did the district a disservice with their stewardship.)
"We are conscious of the fact that we can and should eliminate ourselves," Green said.
Responding to a question from the audience, the SRC members said they felt little political pressure, although they were appointed by politicians.
Green said he had had "shockingly few" conversations with Gov. Tom Corbett, who appointed him.
Jimenez said if the commissioners do reach out to the people who named them, "it's usually to ask for more money."