Philadelphia School Reform Commission Has Dissolved. So Now What?

After more than 15 years of deferring to state oversight, the City of Philadelphia has regained control of the school district.

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to dissolve itself, opening the door for Mayor Jim Kenney to appoint a local school board that would then be approved by City Council.

"Since the imposition of this body, Philadelphians have been without direct control and accountability," Kenney said. "The time is right to return the School District of Philadelphia to local control and accountability."

So what’s next for schools?

Thursday’s vote launches a three-phase transition that kicks off in December, when Kenney will appoint a panel to nominate at least 27 candidates for a nine-person school board. Candidates must be Philadelphia voters, according to the city charter.

Applications for the new governing body will be available online and in person starting next month.

A second phase will begin in February as school board members are appointed and begin training.

In March, Kenney will give his budget address, which is expected to include plans for the school district. Earlier this month, Kenney indicated money for the city’s schools could come from new taxes, though he did not say what those taxes would be. A new school budget is expected to be adopted by May.

A third phase kicks off with a new board of education in place by July 1, 2018. The SRC will continue to govern until June 30, 2018.

How will this impact parents, students and teachers?

Current contracts for teachers and Superintendent William Hite will remain in place until the new school board decides otherwise.

“Our priorities will remain the same," Hite said. "We are focused on early literacy, preparing students for college and career, recruiting and retaining great talent and maintaining our hard won financial stability.” 

Hite is under contract through 2022 and is supported by Kenney and other members of council.

The idea during transition is for students and parents not to fill the pinch as administrators go in and out of power. 

“Our goal is for this to be seamless … so that parents don’t see this as a big change,” SRC chair Joyce Wilkerson told NBC10. “Hopefully it will mean stability so as people read about the long-term challenges, they won’t be fearing the district will be out on its own again.”

What is the current financial situation for Philly’s public schools?

Currently, the school district has a $103 million deficit and a projected deficit of $1 billion over the next five years. Councilman-at-large Allan Domb introduced legislation Thursday to collect millions in unpaid real estate taxes to help fill that gap.

Kenney said earlier this month that collecting delinquent taxes alone will not close the deficit, but Domb argued it should, at least, be part of the solution.

Why now?

The SRC was always meant to be a temporary solution. Now, after 16 years of state control, officials claim Philly’s schools are no longer in distress.

Graduation rates across the district have risen to 67 percent - it was barely 50 percent 10 years ago - and student scores have improved for several Keystone exams, the SRC said. Suspension rates have dropped and attendance is up.

Revenue is also on the rise despite a lingering deficit. The school district has successfully obtained recurring revenue streams from the state, including $58 million annually from the cigarette tax and $2.5 million annually from rideshare fees. In September, the district received its first ratings upgrade by Moody’s Investor Service since 2010.

“There is stability and positive momentum within the school district because local government partners are collaborating and working toward a shared vision of equitable educational opportunities for every child in Philadelphia,” Kenney said.

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