is a member of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission
Calls for a return to local control of the School District of Philadelphia, in many cases prompted by the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision on the School Reform Commission's powers, are based on a misdiagnosis of what ails the city's public schools.
There can be no question that sufficient, predictable, recurring funding is desperately needed to provide our students with the educational opportunities they deserve. However, local control without taxing authority would do nothing to provide the necessary funding.
But even with a governing board that had taxing authority, we cannot lose sight of the need for appropriate state funding for our schools.
Local tax support for Philadelphia's schools has increased by more than $400 million over the last five years, but these resources have not translated to widespread investments in classrooms, as they have been consumed by increasing, recurring fixed costs (such as pensions and benefits) and plugging the hole left by reduced state support.
A structural deficit is the terminal disease our School District is battling. Rather than banding together to find a cure, entrenched interest groups and activists are aiming their fire at the SRC and School District leadership, blaming them for not spending funds we neither have nor can compel.
As many advocates of local control have stated in the past, a change in governance will not address the structural deficit. If anything, local control makes additional resources from Harrisburg less likely. The prescription threatens to worsen the disease.
The health and viability of the School District depends not just on resources but also on the ability to use those resources in a way that supports students and learning.
The Supreme Court decision impacted a discrete set of extraordinary powers granted to the SRC - specifically, the authority to suspend portions of the School Code. Left intact are a dozen-plus tools that the SRC and School District leadership have employed in service of students. These include the authority to make decisions about staffing and assignments (how teachers and other staff are assigned to schools) based on student needs, not seniority, and the ability to enter into contracts with entities to provide educational services (for example, our agreements with the nonprofit groups that designed and run several of our new, innovative high schools).
These tools would be lost if the SRC were disbanded. While that might advantage certain adult interests, it surely would be to the detriment of students.
We have a preview of how local control of the School District would play out. Local elected officials recently intervened in court to stop the sale of closed schools, an action to create pressure to reopen these facilities - resulting in unbudgeted costs - or, in my opinion, to tilt the scales toward a favored developer who was unsuccessful in the bidding.
We need strong and independent voices willing to sacrifice politics for the benefit of children. Speaking for myself, when full and fair funding finally arrives from Harrisburg, I will support a local system that provides independence and insulation from politics and the treasuries of those representing adults.
Unfortunately, our largest problem today comes not from governance of the district. Gov. Wolf has cut education spending by more than 50 percent compared with last year. As a result, credit ratings have gone down and costs have gone up. Cutting what your opponents care about to bring them to the table is an understandable tactic in a budget battle. However, it is hard to comprehend a negotiating strategy that involves cutting the very thing one campaigned to increase: education spending.
The SRC, families, and children need predictability in order to invest in our schools. In this kind of environment, I'm certainly glad to be serving with a strong and independent group on the School Reform Commission.