In one of the quieter School Reform Commission meetings in recent months, commissioners voted Thursday to revoke the charter of Mount Airy’s New Media Charter School, while renewing five-year charters for three other schools.
In its last regular meeting of the school year, it also took a series of other actions, including a vote to permanently close the former William Penn High School and sold it to Temple University for $15 million.
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to grant a five-year renewal to New Foundations Charter School, but postponed a decision on two others.
It also gave a $93 million, three-year contract to Maramont Corp. for school lunch services, but only after extensive questioning of company representatives and the District's food service staff.
Updated | 11:30 p.m.
The School Reform Commission declined Thursday to adopt a budget proposal that would raise class sizes as high as 41, cut 800 teachers, reduce special education services to their bare minimum, prevent all but the most basic building maintenance, and make further cuts in services like counselors and nurses.
The SRC made the decision even though failing to adopt a budget before the end of May violates the city charter.
"Rather than adopting a 'Doomsday II' budget – and give anyone the impression that the cuts it contains are feasible or acceptable – we are going to not act on the budget tonight," announced SRC Chairman Bill Green. "Instead, we will continue to focus our energy and attention on securing the needed funding for our schools."
City Council summoned School District leadership Wednesday to answer more questions on the needs of the schools and to argue over what the city can and should provide.
But after three hours of sharp verbal sparring, they seemed no closer to a breakthrough that could get the District enough money in time to avoid triggering hundreds of layoffs and planning for class sizes in September of 40 students or more.
The legal battle over whether Philadelphia's School Reform Commission has the power to unilaterally impose new work rules on the District's teachers is getting more intense with the filing of new arguments urging quick action by the Supreme Court.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) maintains that "the collective bargaining agreement ... has proven a particularly high barrier to the District effecting reforms essential to providing services in a fiscally responsible and manageable manner."
The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to approve a $2.8 billion “lump sum” budget for fiscal 2015 that counts on receiving $440 million more in revenue than it currently has secured.
It did so shortly after an unprecedented scene in City Hall, when a few dozen school principals clogged the corridors to dramatize the appalling conditions in their schools and ask Council members for more funds.
And State Sen. Vincent Hughes addressed the SRC directly after holding a rally on the District’s steps in which he called for taxing Marcellus Shale extraction – Pennsylvania is the only gas-producing state in the country that doesn’t do so – to raise money for education.
The School Reform Commission approved the sales of six vacant properties Thursday night, most of them schools that were closed within the last two years.
It also ratified a contract with the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents principals and assistant principals, who will reduce their work year and see lower salaries.
The properties will be sold for a total of $37 million under the current agreements, but the District will net $25.8 million after closing costs and other costs are taken out, said Fran Burns, the District's operations manager.
The boos began as soon as Bill Green walked in the door. He waited 32 minutes to bang his gavel – the first he’s ever wielded.
“I really wanted a bigger gavel,” he said later with a laugh. “But they told me that size doesn’t matter. I guess we’ll find out.”
It was exactly 5:38 p.m. when Green entered the auditorium at 440 N. Broad St. for the first of what will likely be dozens of School Reform Commission meetings – five years’ worth, if all goes according to plan.
A packed house was primed and ready. Teachers wearing red shirts and union supporters, parents and community activists, volunteers and professionals, familiar faces and new ones, all seething with frustration built up over year after year of budget cuts, deficits, layoffs, closures, fishy deals, flashy plans and unmet promises.
They came to unload on Bill Green.
The State Senate approved the nominations of City Councilman Bill Green and People’s Emergency Center executive director Farah Jimenez to the School Reform Commission in a vote of 44-2 this afternoon. Sens. Vincent Hughes and Andrew Dinniman were the dissenting votes.
Gov. Corbett nominated both Green and Jimenez to the five-member panel last month. Green will fill the chair position left vacant by Pedro Ramos, who resigned in October, citing family issues. Jimenez will fill the seat left vacant by Joseph Dwortezky, whose term expired in January.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
In many ways, Joseph Dworetzky was the voice of the people during his four-year tenure as a School Reform Commission member — often casting the lone "no" vote on SRC decisions that were unpopular with the education advocates who regularly testify at the group's action meetings.
Dworetzky, a lawyer who spent time as city solicitor in Ed Rendell's mayoral administration, held views that often clashed with those of his SRC colleagues.