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WE'RE PLEASED that Mayor-elect Michael Nutter has seemed to back off his initial interest in taking back control of the city's public schools from the state. For now, such a move would be grounded more in populism than in reality.

The state became the lead shareholder in the education of our kids when it took over the school district in 2001. Thus, the district was no longer a far-off country into which legislators air-dropped puny care packages of money, then flew away. The state gained more power and oversight in the district - and greater accountability for what happens to the district's 172,000 students.

The city would be foolish to try to take back the district in light of the recent costing-out study showing that the education of Philly kids is underfunded by $5,000 a year compared to other districts in the state. A return to city control must wait until city officials have the resources (read: money) to give it a chance to succeed. To take over now is a recipe for disaster.

Progress, measured by test scores, is being made under state control. Would we like faster progress? Who wouldn't. Are there flaws? Absolutely. But we are encouraged by recent actions of the School Reform Commission and interim CEO Tom Brady to handle the budget deficit and focus schools on core issues.

A calmer district awaits whoever is chosen as CEO. A recommendation is expected by the end of the month.

An advisory group that includes parents who've been critical of the SRC will be involved in the selection process. The public seems to favor an educator from the Philadelphia area. We understand these concerns. But with the current makeup of the SRC, a local person may not be as important as the best person.

If the school district and the SRC had little or no significant community connection - as we would argue, was the case with former SRC chairman James Nevels - then we would see the need for someone local.

But SRC Chairwoman Sandra Dungee Glenn has strong community ties (not to mention a radio show on WURD 900/AM). She has become the public face of the school district.

SINCE THE state takeover, we have had a change agent as CEO (Paul Vallas), then a steady soldier (Tom Brady) to plug the holes and keep the ship steady, and the crew well coordinated.

Now we need a disciplined visionary who can instill a positive and optimistic mindset among students, teachers, administrators, funders, the city, businesses and the state. (And a financial manager for the district would free the CEO to focus on the big picture.)

Nutter correctly points out that education, jobs and public safety are strongly linked. Attention must be focused on all three areas to assure the city becomes vibrant. Time to table the city takeover talk for now. *