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Notable moments during 17 years of Philly’s School Reform Commission

The School Reform Commission has governed the Philadelphia School District for the past 17 years. Here are some milestones from its history:

The School Reform Commission has governed the Philadelphia School District for the past 17 years. Here are a few milestones from its history:


State lawmakers pass Act 46 and Gov. Tom Ridge signs it into law, giving Harrisburg the power to replace the local school board with a School Reform Commission and forbidding the powerful teachers' union from striking. The move was prompted by Superintendent David Hornbeck vowing to shut schools if the state did not bail out the school system.


December: Mayor John Street and Governor Mark Schweiker agree to a state takeover of city schools. Protests against state control begin immediately, with two dozen people blocking traffic after the mayor and governor announce the deal. The school board is replaced with an SRC, comprised of three gubernatorial picks and two mayoral appointees; James Nevels is, at first, the sole member, meeting on Dec. 28 to award contracts. Nevels will soon be joined by James Gallagher, Daniel Whelan, Michael Masch and Sandra Dungee Glenn.


March: The SRC votes to let dozens of district schools be run by private managers, including for-profit companies like Edison Schools, Inc., part of an aggressive reform strategy that will see mixed results and ultimately end several years in.

July: The SRC hires Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools chief, as CEO of the school system. He quickly announces "the largest school-construction program in Philadelphia's history,"a $1.5 billion campaign, dramatically expands the number of city high schools, and improves academics. His tenure will last nearly five years, ending in 2007 amid a surprise budget deficit of $73 million and eroding confidence in his leadership.


The SRC votes to require a course in African American history for all high school students in district schools.


After the departure of Vallas, SRC hires retired U.S. Army officer Thomas Brady as interim superintendent.


Arlene Ackerman, the former schools chief in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, is hired as superintendent. In 2009, she issues "Imagine 2014," her $50 million blueprint for the district, including a call to shut some struggling schools and turn others over to charters. She leaves the district in 2011 after increasing criticism of her management style and financial stewardship of the district, but is credited with elevating parent voice and funneling resources to the neediest students. She receives a $905,000 buyout.


SRC approves a settlement to end a 40-year-old school desegregation case.


April: A city report reveals a stunning, back-room campaign by then-State Rep. Dwight Evans and SRC Chair Robert L. Archie Jr. to steer the awarding of a contract to run Martin Luther King High School to a favored nonprofit.

June: Amid a $629 million budget crisis, the school district issues 3,024 layoff notices, including pink slips to more than 1,500 teachers.


January: Saying it could run out of money before the end of the school year, the SRC names turnaround specialist Thomas Knudsen as Chief Recovery Officer — an amalgam of CEO and chief financial officer. This comes after the district slashes school-budgets and lays off employees, including school nurses, mid-school year. The district had been using federal stimulus money to pay for recurring costs, and banking on savings that never materialized. "It's like paying your household bills with credit cards and home-equity loans," new SRC member Feather Houstoun says.

March: SRC votes to close eight schools.

June: SRC hires William R. Hite Jr. as superintendent.

August: The Boston Consulting Group, hired by the SRC to evaluate the district, releases a landmark report, recommending the closure of up to 57 schools within five years. It urges the SRC to be more selective about charter school growth, and to pursue sea changes in the next teachers' contract. The report is immediately decried by members of the public.


March: SRC votes to close 23 schools; it adds a 24th to the closing list the following month.

June: To make ends meet, the school district announces the layoff of 3,783 employees, including all counselors, assistant principals, secretaries, noontime aides and some teachers. For most of the summer, it was not clear whether schools would open on time; the city comes through with $50 million to do so.


May: SRC refuses to adopt a budget, saying it does not have adequate funding to operate the city's schools. This leads to another summer of uncertainty over whether schools will open on time, though they do, with the help of a new $2-a-pack city cigarette tax.

October: SRC moves to unilaterally cancel the expired Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' contract, citing "special powers" it believes it has under the state takeover law. The state Supreme Court eventually declares this move illegal.


February: SRC approves five new standalone charter schools — adding to the 84 already in existence — the first new charters in years. The move comes amid intense pressure from Harrisburg Republicans to approve new charters.

March: Gov. Wolf replaces Bill Green as chair of the SRC with Marge Neff; Green remains a commission member.

October: SRC borrows $250 million to pay its bills.


June: SRC approves a contract with the PFT, its largest union, more than four years after the last one expired. The total value of the contract is estimated at $395 million.

November: After Mayor Kenney pitches local control as key to the city's future, SRC votes itself out of existence as of June 30, 2018.