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High Schools - A Nutter lesson plan for city

Safety, education, jobs - and a big role for business

When he took office back in 2000, Mayor Street said he wanted to be known as "The Education Mayor."

The way Mayor-elect Michael Nutter sees it, things aren't quite that simplistic.

"Public safety. Education. Jobs," Nutter, 50, said last week in a quiet conference room of his otherwise hectic former campaign office. "It's a spinning triangle all day long.

"Those three things are linked together, and that's what's going to drive this city forward," he continued, as chief of staff appointee Clay Armbrister nodded in agreement.

"All three have to be done well, simultaneously and every day," added Nutter. "They are inextricably tied together. They're all one."

During his first interview on his education agenda since last month's landslide general election victory, Nutter revealed that he would be calling on Philadelphia's business community to do much more for schools and education - from internships to support for adults returning to college.

He also said he remains concerned about the "financial crisis" at the school district, and reiterated that he wants to be involved in the selection of its new chief executive officer.

What he's not so hot for any more is ending state control of the 172,000-student district, which began at the end of 2001 following years of financial and academic turmoil.

Long before he became a candidate for mayor, Nutter had been one of the few voices that called for the takeover to end and for the city to reclaim the school district.

But during the campaign, and again last week, he backed away from that stance.

"The discussion about local control, and is the city going to take the schools back, is nothing more than a distraction. We need to stop talking about it," he insisted.

"The adults need to stop having fights with each other," he snapped.

Instead, he, Gov. Rendell and the takeover-created School Reform Commission must work together to continue boosting the funding and quality of schools, Nutter said.

"Ultimately, the city should have responsibility and authority with regard to the school district," he explained. "But from my perspective, that's a conversation for two or three years down the road."

The reform commission has said it expects to have a new school district chief executive this month. That person needn't be homegrown, said Nutter, himself born and raised in West Philadelphia.

"We should find the best person that we can in the United States of America. I give preference to the best candidate," he said.

And while the four-member reform commission will make the ultimate hiring decision, Nutter said that because the state and city governments provide most of the district's funding, he expects that he and Rendell will be involved.

"It should happen in the context that the mayor and the governor understand why any particular candidate is the most qualified; that the mayor and governor have an opportunity to meet the various candidates and have an opportunity to weigh in on the decision making," he said.

"This should be a collaborative decision-making process among the SRC, the mayor and the governor," he added.

"The success of the district depends on the continued partnership between the city and the state," responded Sandra Dungee Glenn, chairwoman of the SRC, when told of Nutter's comments. "As we go through this CEO selection we will be seeking Governor Rendell's, Mayor-elect Nutter's input and participation. This will be a collaborative process."

The city's business community should expect to get an after-Christmas list from Nutter following his Jan. 7 swearing-in.

The mayor-elect said he wants businesses to double the number of summer jobs for young people, which last year were about 1,000, and expand internship and mentorship programs. He plans to expand summer jobs, internships and mentorships in the city government, as well.

He wants businesses to implement policies that would allow parents and guardians to attend school-related activities without having to use personal or vacation days. He wants businesses that have suites at the city's professional sports arenas to set aside some of those seats for students who do well in school.

And he wants to see businesses expand and create tuition reimbursement programs to help an estimated 80,000 city workers finish college educations they started but never completed.

"I want them to be advocates for education," Nutter said of the business community.

"We share Mayor-elect Nutter's enthusiasm for improving education," said Mark Schweiker, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. "Even more encouraging is his confidence that the business community can help."

Nutter said he is not sure if he will retain the secretary of education position that Mayor Street created, but he will establish an Office of College and University Relations. This, he said, will help to harness the economic and educational power of the region's 83 institutions of higher learning.

Concerning the school district's shaky finances, Nutter said the problem has two roots: underfunding and lax accountability.

He said that while he was not surprised by the release last month of the state Board of Education's study indicating that city schools are underfunded by about $1 billion a year, local school officials still must do a better job with the money entrusted to them.

"What we just experienced is a person spending money for the right reasons, but spending more than they had," Nutter said, alluding to former schools chief Paul Vallas.

"We're not the federal government. We don't print money in the basement. You get what you get and you gotta do what you can do with it," he continued. "There are some serious fiscal accountability issues over at the school district."

Keeping schools safe will require his office, the school district and city police to work more closely together, Nutter said.

To aid in this effort, he said, every school should have a safety plan, while the school district's data-collection system should be integrated with the city's system.

"What I want are 270 public-safety plans developed by the Philadelphia Police Department, the school district police and the managing directors of these two great government entities," he said, "that are easy to explain and understand and that will [assure] parents and guardians that when they send their child to school, they're going to come back home in one piece."

While Mayor Street refused to station city officers in each high school as Vallas had requested, Nutter said that where police are needed they'll be dispatched.

"If officers are needed in some schools, then we'll have officers in those schools. If they're not needed in some schools then we won't have them in those schools," he said.

Fernando Gallard, a school district spokesman, said attendance and academic data are being collected via SchoolStat, a program based on the New York City Police Department's CompStat program and Baltimore City's Citistat program.

"We certainly welcome working with the new administration to look at ways to expand and improve the collection and sharing of academic and crime data," Gallard said. *