April 2 — 8:17 pm, 2018

Our opinion: Step out from behind the curtain

If you want public support for schools during this transition to a Board of Education, let the public see the process. Back-room dealing will not do.

img 3493 Dale Mezzacappa

Why does it feel like the transition from the School Reform Commission to a soon-to-be-constituted Philadelphia school board is a fast shuffle – now you see it, now you don’t?

The SRC has run public education in Philadelphia since the state government took over the school system 16 years ago. On June 30, the SRC will go out of business and a new school board, to be appointed by Mayor Kenney this week, will take over, giving the city control of its schools again.

One big complaint about the SRC has been that Philadelphia residents don’t have enough influence over the education their children receive. So you would think that everything about this transition would be done out in the open, where people can see the changes being made and gain confidence in the new arrangement.

However, the day after schools closed for spring break, two members of the SRC resigned — apparently because they’re likely to be among the nine members of the new school board, although nobody’s saying that.

Immediately, the mayor appointed two people to replace them on the SRC, and the governor appointed one of the remaining members to be the new chair.

And now, the lame-duck SRC is about to vote on a $3 billion budget for the 2018-19 school year — a budget that the new school board will have to deal with.

The public schools are called public for a reason: They serve the people of Philadelphia. If you want people to support the schools with their votes and their taxes, you have to explain how the money will be spent, and you have to show — not tell — that the School District of Philadelphia deserves their confidence.

Back-room dealing is exactly the wrong thing to do, and there’s no reason for it except arrogance. After 16 years of the state telling Philadelphia that it’s not fit to run its own school system, the city is acting as if residents have no right to know what’s happening and why. It’s a slap in the face.

But wait – there’s more. The mayor is culling through 45 people nominated for the new school board by a selection panel. No public meetings have been held at which Philadelphia residents could hear from the candidates, give their opinions on which ones are the best, or point out conflicts that could damage the new board’s credibility.

Activists who have complained about the process have been stymied. A lot of the good will that accompanied the decision to dissolve the SRC seems to have evaporated.

The SRC gave the city almost eight months to handle the transition to a new city-appointed school board. That was plenty of time to put the public back in public schools. Instead, all the important decisions are being made by people behind a curtain.

That’s just wrong. 


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