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Committee of Seventy: Governor should form panel to fill SRC seats

By Wendy Harris on Oct 22, 2013 03:38 PM

The sudden resignation of School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos has many asking who his replacement will be. For others, his departure raises the question of how the five-member panel should be selected, especially because the term of another commissioner is set to expire in about three months.

Joseph Dworetzky, who was named to the SRC by former Gov. Ed Rendell, will reach the end of his term in January 2014. Dworetzky has been an outspoken commissioner, unafraid to challenge his fellow SRC members and the District. Back in May, he voted against a stripped-down budget that eliminated nearly everything from schools except a principal and small number of classroom teachers. He also objected to a number of Superintendent William Hite’s proposals to close schools.

At the news of Ramos’ resignation – his term was also set to expire in January 2014 – the Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog group, promptly sent a letter to Gov. Corbett urging him to appoint a nominating panel that would help fill the chairman’s post and replace Dworetzky.

“These are deeply troubling times for the city’s public schools, with unresolved contracts with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, an ongoing fiscal crisis that led to massive personnel cuts and extreme unpredictability about the future of public education in the state’s largest city. Over 200,000 students and their families have been adversely impacted by the chaos and uncertainty,” wrote Zack Stalberg, president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy, in the letter to the governor.

"These problems present you with a real opportunity for a public process in the exercise of your SRC appointment power.”

The current process for filling SRC seats is that the governor appoints three of the five commissioners and the mayor appoints two. Gubernatorial appointees need to be approved by the Pennsylvania Senate.

Here is a list of the remaining commissioners and when their terms are due to expire.  

Commissioner Term expires Appointed by
Wendell Pritchett January 2017 Mayor
Sylvia Simms January 2017 Mayor
Feather Houstoun January 2017 Governor
Joseph Dworetzky January 2014 Governor
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Comments (22)

Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on October 22, 2013 9:15 pm
While I volunteer for the Committee of Seventy's voter protection teams every election day and greatly support their work to foster clean and open government in the city, Zack missed a real opportunity with this. What the Committee should be pushing for is a repeal of Act 46 (which is patently unconstitutional and only still on the books because it has never faced a real court challenge) and a transition to an elected school board in Philadelphia. This is the nature of proper democratic institutions, which is exactly what our public school systems should be (and in most counties in this state, already are.) The only way that parents, teachers, and concerned citizens will ever have a voice or see responsive and responsible management of our district is when they have the power to unseat those who do not serve the public interest.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2013 11:20 pm
That is quite an idealized version of democracy. More likely Philly school board would end up like Philly traffic court or Philly sheriffs office or other minor elected offices. Rule by the stupid for the benefit of the corrupt insider. We have the SRC in the first place because the machine/city council used the district as a dumping ground for patronage and interest group feeding, running it into the ground.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 23, 2013 7:09 am
That is why Senator Dinniman, the minority leader of the Senate education committee, proposes a "non-partisan" election of the school board for Philadelphia. The district's school board was appointed by the mayor prior to the state takeover of our schools. Democracy, our freedoms, and the well being of public education require "eternal vigilance" as it is said, and I assure you the public will keep a close eye on what is happening within our so called public schools. What is quite clear to those of us who attend SRC meetings is that 'the public" has been shut out of their constitutional right to participate in the governance of our public schools. Time and time again, the public protests what the SRC is doing by turning public schools over to private entities, yet the SRC does it anyway. The only way to have a school board "accountable to the public" and the citizens of Philadelphia is to have an elected school board. If having an elected school board is a "dangerous thing" as the Daily News so said yesterday, I submit, there is little hope for us as a civilization. You can bet Corbett will choose whoever he thinks will push forward his agenda and his political attacks on the people of Philadelphia. it is amazing to me, that in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy and the home of the National Constitution Center, we have one of the least democratically governed public school systems in America. Democracy is the "sine qua non" for Greatness in our public schools.
Submitted by tom-104 on October 23, 2013 8:31 am
Well said Rich. The end of state control and the creation of an elected school board should be the center of our attention. Speculation about who Governor Corbett will appoint to replace Ramos and Dworetzky in December is a waste of time and energy from this central issue. Of course Corbett is going to appoint someone who supports the agenda of ALEC and corporate ed reform. We have lost control of our lives and our community and we are going to have to take them back!
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 23, 2013 11:31 am
Tom 104------Bingo. We have lost control of our own lives by allowing these "reformers" to ride herd on Democracy and all things school and kids related. We have proven to be our own worst enemy by playing patsy.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on October 23, 2013 11:04 am
Rich--Corbett's attacks on the people of Phila. are not just political as in a theoretical vein; His attacks are very concrete and personal as he destroys the lives of the children here in a very real and personal way.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 1:01 am
Yes, more democracy is good. Citizens should vote on tax increases. And vote on bond issuances required by schools. Most suburbs do this. Contractual provisions that increase pension costs should be treated as the long-term debt they actually are, and voted on by taxpayers as bond issues. No? That is too much democracy I guess.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 24, 2013 7:57 am
No that is not too much democracy at all. The question of which provisions get voted on and enacted by the "elected representatives of the citizenry" and which provisions are required to be approved via voter referendum are part and parcel of democracy. We the people, elect our General Assembly in PA, and they enact the laws. Almost every school district in the state elects their school board. Why not Philadelphia? The reason I believe Act 46 is unconstitutional "on its face" is that it purports to allow an "unelected" politically appointed, SRC to eradicate the School Code which is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority and usurpation of the authority reserved only for the legislature. I can well argue that it is also unconstitutional "as applied" because it violates "due process" procedures which is a violation of Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. I assure the SRC has no legal authority to "suspend" the Due process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It can be well argued that seniority is a "due process" procedure.
Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on October 24, 2013 9:26 am
We should add in that it's also a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Act 46 applies different legal standards and rights to one segment of the states population for entirely arbitrary reasons. That comes both in the ability to set aside the School Code (unequal application of the law and different legal standards for some citizens) and in the elimination of an elective body without the consent of that body's electors (the voters of Philadelphia.) In legal terms, this should be a slam-dunk; a whole set of legal and constitutional problems attached to the law just waiting for a court to rule on them. So...when is the PFT leadership finally going to wade in and do what's needed to be done all along?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 2:20 am
A long track record of local financial mismanagement requiring state bailouts is not arbitrary. The district cant borrow money without state guaranties. Philly deserves a blank state check like a schizophrenic deserves an assault rifle.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 24, 2013 7:36 am
PS. Senator Dinniman and Senator Stack et al have already introduced the bill to create an elected school board in Philadelphia. It is Senate Bill 913. As Helen Gym Tweets, "The new PA charter school bill is so bad it doesn't even say charters are models of innovation." All citizens should be concerned about all of this that is going on. Our rights, our freedoms, our democracy is at stake. Elections Matter!
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 24, 2013 8:13 am
As a follow up to what I, and Helen, just said about the new charter school bill being pushed into the Senate, everyone should be aware of this new Senate Bill: If there is any question in anyone's mind that what is going on is all about the circumvention of public processes and democracy itself, this bill should dispel that naivete. What is going on in Harrisburg with the republicans is all about turning our public schools into private businesses for profit. It is time to be honest.
Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on October 23, 2013 12:14 pm
I don't have much to add to what Rich wrote above, since he beat me brilliantly to all the relevant points. I'll just add the question that came immediately to mind when I came to the word "patronage" in your reply: What, exactly, about a five member board with far more power than the elected school board ever had, appointed directly by either of two executive officials, with no check or balance on their appointment power, does not constitute "patronage" in its most naked and direct form? I await your response with some interest, because I can't imagine how you can successfully justify your statements in light of that question.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 1:12 am
Yes. The SRC has reduced patronage. You are looking at form over substance. Rhetoric over reality. The state appointed SRC has clearly been a more competent, more honest, less patronage ridden governance board than the old city council appointed school board. Not to say they are perfect, but they are better than what they replaced. Patronage is using taxpayer money to fund wasteful or unnecessary jobs & spending for political supporters or organized special interests (the PFT and SEIU being the biggest of these). The SRC has reduced well over 1000 bureaucracy jobs, cutting costs in the bloated, patronage ridden district admin that was used for decades until the SRC as a dumping ground for city councils' idiot supporters and poll workers. As funding per pupil doubled, this money went to paying teachers more. The current SRC closed schools rather than maintaining inefficient underutilized facilities as a jobs program for the employees. SEIU and PFT complained all the way... They never support closing a single school because they benefit from patronage. And no, allowing parents to choose a charter school is not patronage. It is good government.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 24, 2013 2:41 am
Look at who is working at 440 in "grant funded" positions. They are a slew of "who knows who" positions. Sylvia Simms got a job with Comcast after being on "disability" as a school bus aid. Then, she was given a position by Nutter on the SRC the next month. This is classic nepotism.
Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on October 24, 2013 10:56 am
So the actions of an appointed school board in the past (where the patronage was entirely in the mayor's hands) are somehow indicative of what an elected school board would be like but not of what the appointed SRC (with the governor now being the main source of the patronage and thus even more removed from influence by Philadelphia voters) is like right now? That's an interesting train of argument except for one minor problem: it holds water about as well as a sieve. Not only is it conflating correlation with causation (patronage at all levels of city government has shrunk over the same period, so it's impossible to assign agency only to the SRC or claim that this wouldn't have happened otherwise) but it overlooks the fact that what I'm calling for is not the appointed school board we had prior to 2001. Then we get to your misunderstanding of patronage. In no way does a patronage job have to be "wasteful and unnecessary", as indeed many in any patronage system are not so. The very definition of patronage has to do with how the person gets the job, not whether the job needs to exist or has a useful purpose on its own merits; it may or may not be a "real" job, but that is not the point. Here is Merriam-Webster's definition of "patronage" as it applies to the meaning we're using: Then we get to your rather skewed history of what's happened since. No matter who was in charge, jobs were going to be eliminated at 440 for the simple reason that budgets were always in deficit. You can't keep jobs on the books you can't pay for, patronage or not, so ascribing this to some reforming spirit at the SRC is silly; they have shown no interest in actually weeding out patronage at 440 (which anyone who works in the district can tell you is still ongoing), only in cutting out jobs for fiscal reasons. As far as the idea that per-pupil funding has doubled and teacher's pay has benefited, that process has been going on since the 1970s, which is the real period of that doubling. So that too is not something that can be credited to the SRC, while the rise in teacher pay is due to the actions of the PFT in winning better contracts over time. As for school closings, that's a mixed bag. Much of the real under-utilization came from the effect of charter schools, but many of the closings don't even have that justification. The last round saw the end of Comm Tech HS, a very successful and stable technical HS, that met none of the criteria for under-utilization or poor performance. Nor is it only teachers who protest school closings; parents and students do not like giving up their neighborhood schools and fight to keep them in their community. I'll bypass your final plug for charters, as that's a whole other argument about political influence, but not about patronage (and is a real red herring in your argument.) But the fact is, there no way to justify the SRC as somehow better than an elected school board in terms of patronage. From the SRC members themselves right on down through the administrative ranks at 440, they've shown that they have neither the power nor the will to end patronage, mostly because the SRC members themselves are the direct beneficiaries of it.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:41 am
Yes, a schoolboard appointed by philly pols is a good indication of what an elected schoolboard will do. So is traffic court and the sheriffs office. Non partisan voting will make little difference There is only one party in this city anyway. Patronage citywide has shrunk? No it hasnt. We still have more city workers than 1960 and never lay off anyone. You must exclude AFSCMEs and the like from patronage, which is ridiculous since they control thesize of the workforce, and push city council to run the city for their benefit. Before the src, machine boss johnny doc was sucking millions out of the district even as it hurdled towards insolvency. Because we need union electricians to plug in a computer at $90 an hour. These parasitic organized grifters in the machine have little influence in the src. Bring back an elected board and they will feed again. But really that is the goal here... the state has a role protecting its citizens in philly from this abuse. The src isnt perfect, but the city could do much worse.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 3:07 am
Spending HAS doubled since 2001. Most of that has gone to increasing teacher comp.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 25, 2013 4:32 am
Has your salary increased since 2001? Has your tax bill increased? gas bill? food bill?
Submitted by please (not verified) on October 23, 2013 9:43 am
Kudos to the Committee of Seventy for figuring out yet another way to display its cluelessness and irrelevance.
Submitted by Stewart (not verified) on October 23, 2013 12:59 pm
Cluelessness on this issue, I'll grant you. Zack didn't think this one through as he should have; he's usually better than this. But as for the Committee being irrelevant, no. The work they do on elections and voter protection negates any such charge. All you have to do is look at what they did last night, when they joined (as they regularly do) with the League of Women Voters to sponsor the City Controller candidate debate. They're doing the same for the District Attorney candidates. On a more personal level, I have myself, as part of a voter protection team, ensured that several citizens were able to exercise their right to vote when, without assistance, they would have been denied it. That alone is sufficient reason not to classify the Committee of Seventy as irrelevant.
Submitted by Anonymous. (not verified) on October 23, 2013 7:53 am
Dworetzky does not protest what is going on, nor is he an outspoken commissioner. He makes a disingenuous spiel once in a while and then rubber stamps the resolutions put before the SRC anyway. He only votes "No" when he knows the resolution will be passed anyway. Joe is all about the show. Are you that naive? Has he ever even visited one of our public schools?

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