Expect no major position shifts on the reshuffled School Reform Commission, its leaders said Tuesday.
That means the SRC is still holding a hard line in negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the new chairwoman, Marjorie Neff.
"We have to have a contract that is fiscally responsible. We can't spend money we don't have, and we need work-rule changes that allow Action Plan 3.0 to go forward," Neff said, referring to Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.'s blueprint for moving the Philadelphia School District ahead.
Neff and Bill Green spoke to reporters Tuesday, a day after Green announced he would not pursue a legal challenge to Gov. Wolf's removal of him as leader of the SRC.
Green, who remains a commissioner, said that he thought Wolf lacked legal authority to remove him as chair, but that a court battle would be a distraction from the most important issue: securing millions in new recurring funding for the district.
Neff and Green said they had great respect for each other and that the title change would have little effect on the way the commission operates.
In putting aside his lawsuit, Green "has put the children first," Neff said. "It speaks to his dedication to this service. It's going to make it easier for us to work together."
Behind closed doors, the five commissioners, including Feather O. Houstoun, Farah Jimenez, and Sylvia Simms, "have very lively discussions," Neff said. "We don't always agree with each other, and in some cases we never will."
But the five agree on negotiations with the teachers' union. All voted to cancel the PFT contract in October; Commonwealth Court said that decision was illegal, and the matter is before the state Supreme Court.
"We don't believe there is any daylight between the position of the members on the SRC, which is to get [Hite] and his team the work rules, seniority, health benefits, and compensation that they need to be successful," Green said.
There was some daylight between the members, however, on a vote to authorize new charter schools. Neff was the only commissioner to vote no to all charter applications. Ultimately, five were approved, angering Wolf, who said the district could afford no new charter schools, and Harrisburg Republicans, who said that many more ought to have been green-lighted.
The Wolf administration has said that the charter vote - which came days before Green's removal - was part of the decision to shift SRC leadership. But even if the vote had gone differently, Green was a goner, as Wolf wanted to put his stamp on the SRC, said a government official familiar with the decision.
"It was, 'We ran on education, opposing Gov. Corbett, and Green is Corbett's guy,' " said the official, adding that Wolf had been exploring replacing Green as SRC chair since before his inauguration.
Neff, a former district teacher and principal, said her main focus as SRC chair would be district-run schools, not charters.
But, she said, "we have 82 charter schools in Philadelphia. They're here. If we're going to have charter schools, then they have to be great charter schools, just like we have to have great district schools."
A self-described "control freak," Neff said she relished the opportunity to effect change on a large scale. But she said she misses what she had as a principal: the ability to spend part of every day in classrooms.
"That's hard, about being in this building," Neff said of district headquarters, where the SRC has its offices. "You're not immediately accessible to kids and families. You don't have those little victories."
She said she would try to spend some time every week in schools or with families.
But much of her time this winter and spring will be spent advocating for passage of Wolf's and Mayor Nutter's proposed budgets. The governor said he wants to give Philadelphia schools $159 million in new recurring funding, and the mayor proposed $105 million, money that would "make a tremendous difference," Neff said. "We have schools where children don't have the basic supplies that they need."
Green said that if the mayor's and governor's proposals come through and the district's finances further stabilize, both he and Neff will be ex-commissioners.
"Then I think that we would all declare victory and eliminate the SRC," Green said.