Skewering the Philadelphia School Reform Commission as an ineffective, dysfunctional body that answers to no one, four area legislators called Tuesday for its dissolution.
Six Democratic state senators will introduce legislation to abolish the SRC and establish a nine-member elected school board for Philadelphia. The legislation also would give the mayor the power to appoint and fire the superintendent.
"The SRC has had 10 years and billions of dollars to turn things around," State Sen. Mike Stack (D., Phila.) said at a Tuesday news conference outside Philadelphia School District headquarters. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's not working."
But two powerful senators from the Republican caucus, which is in the majority and will control the bill's fate, indicated the measure would face an uphill battle in Harrisburg.
"There's certainly room for improvement in all aspects of the Philadelphia School District, including the School Reform Commission," said Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), the Senate majority leader.
But, Pileggi added, he has not heard a compelling argument that "an elected school board will improve the educational opportunities for the children of Philadelphia."
Before the SRC's creation with the state takeover in 2001, Philadelphia had a school board. But its members were appointed by the mayor, not elected.
Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin), head of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement that he did not support an elected school board for Philadelphia.
"I remember all too well the chaos surrounding governance of the district prior to the state takeover in 2001 and have seen too many instances of dysfunction and lack of direction and leadership in a nine-member elected board model," Piccola said. "Returning a district the size of Philadelphia to such a model would be a huge step backward, in my view, when the district has made progress under the SRC structure."
But Stack, who was joined at the news conference by Senate Democrats Larry Farnese and LeAnna Washington of Philadelphia and Andy Dinniman of Chester, said the SRC has become a "sideshow, a distraction we can no longer tolerate."
Public frustration with the SRC has been mounting in recent months, culminating in a dramatic public meeting last week at which the commission was loudly, repeatedly booed. The commission has been criticized for its role in a $905,000 buyout for former Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman.
Washington said a number of legislators have questions for the SRC. They want to know, for instance, why the SRC extended Ackerman's contract in February, only to begin talks to buy her out in June. No one has gotten an answer, she said.
"They don't think they have to respond," Washington said.
Dinniman called the SRC an "elitist group that sits on the sides and is responsive to no one."
Two other Democratic state senators from Philadelphia, Shirley M. Kitchen and Christine M. Tartaglione, are also sponsors. If passed, the legislation would dissolve the SRC at the end of the 2012-13 year. School board members would represent nine geographic regions of the city and serve four-year terms.
Pileggi said he would like to see legislation addressing performance measures for superintendents, length of superintendents' contracts, and more "openness and transparency" in terminating those contracts.
"I don't know that I've seen a bill that combines all that I'd like to see," Pileggi said.