Crowd pleads for Philadelphia SRC to abolish itself

Crowds packed the first School Reform Commission meeting tonight. They are saying time is up.

"Harrisburg said they had a fix to make our schools alright. 15 years later no solution is in sight," the crowd sang as community leaders, teachers and parents packed the first SRC meeting of the school year to send a strong message.

"Closing schools and budget cuts and many other woes," the crowd continued to sing. They came to tell the School Reform Commission that its time is up.

"Tick, tick, tick, tick," the crowd chanted while holding clocks. The SRC was put in place 16 years ago to take control away from the Philadelphia School District and put it into the hands of the state. The Coalition of Our City Schools wants the SRC abolished.

"We have no way to hold them accountable for anything that they do. We have no say in how many charter schools there are, whether schools are open or closed," said community member Alison Stohr. Tamir Harper is a senior and student.

"I've been blessed to go to Science Leadership Academy which is an amazing Philadelphia Pubic School but I've also went to Tilton Middle School which at the time was one of the worst rated schools in the Philadelphia School District," he said. Tamir says he wants to see improvement.

"I just want students to be able to have a voice on whose going to be managing their education," he said.

As protestors took to the microphone throughout the evening Elizabeth Lassiter thought about the difference in education when her children went to school in the suburbs before moving back to the city.

"They didn't know anything about going through metal detectors, having police in the school, having no resources like books or anything," she said. Others say if the SRC doesn't go their children will.

"I am a mother who's getting ready to send my child to kindergarten and it's scary. It's more disheartening that I don't want to send her to the School District of Philadelphia," said Erin Turner.

Below is a response to the issue from Mayor Jim Kenney

Q: Protestors called for the SRC to disband, do you agree?

A: My first and foremost concern with the District is how we address the billion dollar deficit it's facing. We've known that deficit was coming down the pike since I was elected two years ago, so, for the last two years, I've had a lot of conversations with a lot of different stakeholders and residents about how to address that deficit, and I've welcomed their thoughts on the SRC as well.

I'm still considering all that input, but what I've definitely realized is that just returning the District to local control - that by itself - won't solve all its problems. We could just end up changing out one big, unaccountable body for another.

And I think that's the biggest frustration I have with the SRC - even though they've made progress, and I don't want to discount that - the problem is that all the accountability is diffused between five different members, me, the Governor and the state legislature. The buck doesn't ultimately stop with anyone.

So, at this point, what I'm debating is if it's better to keep what we have, which has gotten the District to a semi-stable place, or if we should go to a model that has central accountability with one person.

Q: Do you have a timeline of when you would consider asking the SRC to dissolve itself?
Note, the Mayor cannot order the SRC to dissolve itself. They have to vote dissolve themselves and then the state secretary of education has to approve

A: I'm not prepared to commit to a timeline at this point. We want to do this right, so I'm not going to commit to an arbitrary timeline.