An eleventh-hour proposal to give Pennsylvania's governor the power to abolish the Philadelphia School Reform Commission died in committee Tuesday under deep protest from Democratic lawmakers.
"We have suffered under this SRC and its actions," State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat, told a packed Harrisburg hearing room as he sought support for the measure. Hughes and fellow Democrats, angered that the SRC had canceled the Philadelphia teachers' union contract and imposed terms that included new payments toward health insurance, targeted the commission for elimination.
But the effort, which came as GOP leaders rushed through the agenda to move bills before the session was to end late Wednesday, was doomed nearly from the start.
Gov. Corbett is a supporter of the SRC, and Republican lawmakers aligned with him to oppose the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) urged members to vote against Hughes' proposal, saying he believed that giving one person the ability to "act unilaterally" to dissolve the SRC was a bad idea.
Corbett's opponent in the gubernatorial election, Democrat Tom Wolf, has said that, if elected, he would abolish the SRC in favor of an elected school board. So, had the measure passed, Wolf likely would use it.
Under current law, the commission - which was put in place after the state takeover of the district in 2001 and is made up of three gubernatorial appointees and two mayoral appointees - can be dissolved only by the SRC itself, with the consent of the state's education secretary.
Hughes, who criticized the SRC last week for its abrupt cancellation of the teachers' contract, did not spell out what should replace the commission.
In a second proposal that was to be attached to an existing bill on home schooling, Hughes sought to force the SRC to give 48 hours' notice before meetings. He said the three-line notice in The Inquirer on Sunday was not sufficient notice of a Monday morning meeting.
"This was a significant piece of business," he said. "A dramatic change in the contract affecting . . . members of the" Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Pileggi also objected to that, saying the change would "create more problems" and tie the hands of the SRC.
"I don't know if the more notice would have changed the decision," he said.
The amendment to allow the governor to abolish the SRC was defeated 16-9 along party lines. The meeting-notice amendment fell by a vote of 14-11, with two Republicans voting in favor.
The most passionate plea in support of the amendments came from a retiring lawmaker from across the state.
"Why do we treat residents of Philadelphia as second-class citizens?" asked Sen. Jim Ferlo (D., Allegheny). "Everyone else gets to vote on their school boards. It's outrageous. The birthplace of freedom does not allow one person, one vote."
But Philadelphians, even before the SRC, did not vote on school board members. They were appointed by the mayor.
Jerry Jordan, president of the 11,500-member teachers' union, said that he supported Hughes' proposal and that its defeat only made clear that the gubernatorial election would determine the district's future.
"We have to make sure we elect candidates who are really concerned about public education, not only in the Commonwealth, but in the City of Philadelphia, and that there is a fair-funding formula for all school districts," said Jordan, whose union has endorsed Wolf.
Jordan also said that the union planned to go to court sometime this week to oppose the district's imposition of health-insurance payments and that he would address his members this week in a teleconference.
School District spokesman Fernando Gallard did not return a call for comment.