The political fallout of the decision by Gov. Corbett to appoint sitting Philadelphia Councilman Bill Green as the next School Reform Commission Chairman is still rippling throughout the city and state, as elected officials voiced cautious optimism regarding Corbett’s pick.
Corbett last month announced the appointment of Green and Farah Jimenez to the SRC; Corbett is to swear in Green at a ceremony in the coming days.
Corbett’s nomination of Green will fill the vacancy created by Pedro Ramos’ departure last October. Corbett’s nomination of Farah Jimenez will fill the vacancy that will be created by the expired term of Joseph Dworetzky. Both positions, which are unpaid, required Senate confirmation, and each are for a term of five years.
The city will most likely hold a special election to fill Green’s soon-to-be-vacant seat, although City Democratic Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Brady’s office couldn’t yet confirm the details of any such election. Council President Darrell Clarke would not speculate on any council vacancy until such time the vacancy actually exists. Currently, Green is still technically a serving council member.
Mayor Michael Nutter restated what was needed of both the SRC and the state as he offered a measured response to the appointments.
“I believe that Councilman Bill Green and Farah Jimenez will give their fullest commitment to our children and their education, and I look forward to working with them and the entire SRC in our mutual efforts to improve educational opportunities and options for our children,” Nutter said. “Now that the governor has appointed a majority of the SRC members and has selected the chairman, I look forward to the plans of Gov. Corbett and Councilman Green for how they will work in full coordination with Dr. Hite to increase funding for our students’ education, to improve the climate in our schools for teachers, to increase support services that our children need such as counselors and librarians and to see their joint advocacy for a new statewide, student-weighted funding formula along with a new charter school funding formula that will benefit all Pennsylvania students.
“I hope that these desperately needed educational, operational and managerial plans will be announced soon by Gov. Corbett, Mr. Green and the SRC in a unified manner so that we can quickly ensure that our students will receive the superior education that they deserve.”
Whether Green is chair or not has little to do with what the Nutter administration says it needs from the state legislature, including convincing the General Assembly to adopt the liquor tax proposal that City Council passed, and to amend its one percent sales tax extension by splitting the distribution of revenue equally between the school district and the city’s pension fund. But both of those actions must happen, otherwise the district would lose funds, the administration claims.
“The mayor is also calling on the GA to adopt a new statewide, student-weighted funding formula along with a new charter school funding formula,” said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. “The mayor hopes that Mr. Green will become a very strong advocate with the governor who appointed him of this critical agenda.”
Nutter’s comments echo those of Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, vice chair of council’s education committee, who at once congratulated Green on his appointment while looking toward an improved sense of synergy between City Council and the SRC.
“I would like to extend warm wishes and congratulations to Councilman Bill Green and Farah Jimenez on their appointments to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. The work of the SRC is paramount to ensure that we have a well prepared, well educated, next generation of leaders,” Brown said. “I have worked with both of these professionals on various public policy matters and have found them to be passionate in their stated positions, and doggedly determined to push the needle on a cause. I admire and respect them both.
“My greatest hope is to think and work strategically with these new appointees on long term, traditional and non-traditional funding streams that bring new, recurring and sustainable dollars to the School District of Philadelphia, coupled with a fair funding formula that provides the quality education that our Philadelphia public school students deserve. The work continues.”
Repeated calls to Green seeking comment on both his appointment and future plans haven’t been returned as of Tribune press time.
Green’s appointment has been met with a similar chorus from state legislators, as State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., who serves as the Democratic chair of the House Education Committee, said he “hoped that we have gotten an individual who will be a real advocate for the children of Philadelphia,” and that, at this time, that is what the district needs more than anyone else at the helm.
“I have had little conversation with the councilman in terms of his views on education, but I think what is clearly needed is an advocate who will address the underfunding of the School District of Philadelphia and its lack of state support, and [the idea of] making the SRC what it should have been all along,” Roebuck said. “To me, the fundamental issue at play is the lack of support of public education in Pennsylvania, which is absolutely obscene and outrageous.
“That you can open schools in September with a principal and secretary and say that’s giving kids adequate and efficient tools for learning is outrageous, and there has been a lack of any sort of moving addressing that or the funding formula.”
Although Roebuck chairs the influential education committee in the House, that chamber had little to do with Green’s appointment, Roebuck said. The state Senate confirmed Corbett’s appointment of Green several days ago.
Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19th, the Democratic Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said while he has no personal misgivings with Green, he does have a problem with the process, calling it “inappropriate.”
“In the past, when Pedro Ramos and Feather Houstoun were appointed, there were hearings, and at those hearings, community members were able to state their feelings. I am both dismayed and disappointed that the Republican leadership wouldn’t allow hearings to take place on these two nominees,” said Dinniman, who also questions the new funding formula that potentially shorts the district an additional $23 million. “It’s quite clear they had the votes, so there was no excuse not to allow citizen input.
“This process didn’t allow questions to be asked and is disrespectful to the city,” Dinniman said. “The two individuals could be the best two possible people, but how do you know that unless you have the opportunity to ask questions?”
Dinniman’s colleague, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-7th, Democratic chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said sooner or later, Green is going to have to answer to the public for comments Green allegedly made referring to two types of school districts within Philadelphia — one for affluent and wealthy children, and the other for those with less means or are poverty-stricken.
“Councilman Green has spoken about and written about some very controversial things regarding public education, and he has said and written that we should have two school districts in one,” Hughes said, adding that he, too, was perturbed by the manner in which the appointments were rammed through the Senate sans any hearing. “To me, that sounds like ‘separate but unequal,’ and I thought we dealt with that back in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education.”