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Another SRC nominee is in limbo

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The plot thickens.

Gov. Rendell has recalled the name of Joseph Dworetzky as his nominee for the School Reform Commission, the governor's spokesman confirmed today.

But, he added, Rendell intends to resubmit it. 

"He has not yet been resubmitted, but it is the governor's intention to do so," said spokesman Gary Tuma. "He still has the governor's full support." 

On a phone call with reporters from the Notebook and The Inquirer last week, on the day that Heidi Ramirez resigned, Rendell himself reiterated his support for Dworetzky, who was named in March along with Ramirez.

Still, the revelation is another piece in the politically charged drama over the future of the SRC that took a stunning turn with the resignation of Ramirez, its most outspoken member. It means there are no SRC nominations currently before the state Senate even though there is one SRC vacancy and another one pending. And it fuels speculation that the Republicans want a seat (or two) on the SRC as a concession in the continuing budget stalemate -- or at the very least that Republican representation on the SRC is a factor in the negotiations.

The governor withdrew the name, Tuma said, because of the "25-day rule," a provision in the state constitution that requires the Senate to act on a gubernatorial nominee within 25 legislative days. If it doesn't, the person "takes office as if the nomination has been consented to by the Senate.”

One could argue that if Rendell had left Dworetzky's name in he would have been confirmed by default, but in reality that never happens, said Dallas Stoy, executive assistant to Majority Caucus Chairman Robert D. Robbins. Governors and the Senate have apparently worked out a tacit agreement that effectively skirts the 25- day rule while they do their political dealing. 

"I’ve been working on this since 1988-89, and to my knowledge [confirmation as a result of inaction] has never taken place," Stoy said.

Stoy said it is a safe bet to assume that if the name is withdrawn, the governor feels that the nomination would not have been approved at that time. "If there is not an agreement [on the nomination], the option would be to defeat them, and most likely the governor doesn’t wish for that to take place," she said.

Tuma, another longtime Senate staffer before taking the post in the governor's office, said that resubmissions are fairly common.

For sure, Dworetzky did not have easy sailing at a June 24 hearing before the Senate Education Committee -- and the grilling wasn't limited to Republicans. It was Philadelphia Democrat Anthony Williams, a charter-school founder, who pushed Dworetzky on whether he supported charter schools. As a private attorney, Dworetzky represented the state in legal actions against the Chester-Upland School District -- the power base of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi -- and one of its charter schools.

Williams also pointedly noted that it's hard to ask the state for money for city schools if there is no Republican representation on the SRC.

Afterwards, according to The Inquirer, committee chair Sen. Jeffrey Piccola declared that he was "undecided" on Dworetzky and questioned whether he was sufficiently committed to "choice" and "innovation."

It should be noted that Rendell this spring recalled the name of Ramirez -- or rather, never submitted her paperwork to the Senate. At the time, Rendell's office declared that the recall didn't mean anything except that he didn't want her caught up in any flak thrown at Dworetzky by Republicans. They also said that since she was already in office - she took her seat to fill an unexpired term in the spring of 2008 - and could continue to serve, the office wanted to concentrate on moving other appointees. 

It should also be noted that Ramirez didn't begin serving until more than four months after her nomination, which indicates things can take a long time in Harrisburg regardless of whether the 25-day rule is flouted. 

The governor has also repeatedly denied that Ramirez's resignation had anything to do with opening up a seat for the Republicans, although he acknowledged talking to Pileggi about a replacement. Pileggi told The Inquirer that this conversation took place more than a month before Ramirez resigned.

Tuma said there is no timetable yet for when Dworetzky will be resubmitted and the other nominee will be named.

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.