Testimony of Barbara Dowdall to the Board of Education, May 30, 2019

Honoring the 40,000

40,000 what? Actually 40,000 who: 40,000 Philadelphia residents who signed petitions urging City Council to put a question on the November 2014 ballot* asking voters if they support abolishing the SRC and returning schools to local control.….{Advocates said the goal of the ballot initiative was to send a message to Harrisburg that the SRC has not worked out to the benefit of Philadelphia schools.} Voters had to wait until the following spring, but the nonbinding measure passed overwhelmingly (still checking on the exact figures) and the combined fortuitous SRC appointments by Governor Wolf and Mayor Kenney brought us the long sought-after SRC self-abolishment and return to local control in 2018.

I speak here today as both a signer and signature solicitor for some of those 40,000 voices and as one of the voters who ratified the effort. We sought not to change just the names and numbers of the governing body, but the policies and procedures, the dedication and philosophy that would affirm our public schools and their communities. We sought a board and administrators who would strengthen, not undermine, our long under-resourced schools.

Instead of looking to once again moving deck chairs (e.g. grade configurations) and envisioning shrinking not growing the district [at a projected jaw-dropping expense], we need to upgrade and build. Fully resource our schools and support our staff. Hand the Boston Consulting Group back its organization chart and restore our geographical neighborhood districts so we can see where the gaps are and fill them in. Be the believers in our traditional public schools. Vow to never again cut out the public school heart of a community as has been done in Germantown.

We acknowledge and appreciate the friendlier atmosphere here at 440. We welcome the opportunities provided for more input (though a bit exhausting to keep up) at committee meetings. We look with hope to more displays of courage as when you dared to decline several charter applications and with appreciation for the caring you demonstrated for the gains made with community support at Mifflin. Other actions, however –too many without public attendance or participation– are troubling. The just-this-week promulgated plan for a massive reworking of the district with possibilities of more closures brings back painful memories of the high-cost (both financial and emotional) of the experimentation conducted by various SRC regimes. Will this long sought-after Philadelphia’s-very-own Board of Education represent a distinction without a difference or prove to be the manifestation of local control with full and authentic community involvement that the 40,000 and more yearned for? *https://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/city/20140912_Phila__City_Council_will_not_put_advisory_measure_to_abolish_SRC_to_voters.html

* HOW PHILLY WORKS May 2015 Ballot Question Overview What You Should Know about Philadelphia’s May 19 Ballot Questions:
When you go to the polls Tuesday, don’t think that you’re finished after you plow through all those candidates. (No, there aren’t 767 folks running for judgeships – just 67.) At the bottom of the ballot are four questions awaiting your “yes” or “no.” Each would, with the approval of a simple majority of voters, amend Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter (the City’s “Constitution”), but none would do so in a way that significantly reorganizes city government or costs an enormous amount of money. And one is a non-binding referendum, i.e., a glorified opinion poll that would be inserted in the Charter. Below, you can find the official question wording for the four questions, the “plain English” explanation the City provides for them and our thoughts on what the amendments mean and what effects they might have. The Committee of Seventy hasn’t taken a position on any of them. REMEMBER: All eligible voters, regardless of their party affiliation, can vote on ballot questions. –May 15, 2015
Ballot Question #1:
Referendum on the School Reform Commission (SRC) Ballot Question Language: “Shall The Philadelphia Home Rule Charter be amended to call upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to abolish the School Reform Commission and return local control of Philadelphia’s schools?” “Plain English” Statement: This is a non-binding referendum calling on the State Government to return the Philadelphia public school system to local control. The School District of Philadelphia currently is governed by a State-controlled School Reform Commission. This proposed amendment to the Home Rule Charter would express the view that the State takeover of the public school system has weakened the voices of parents and community in the operation of public education in Philadelphia, and that the School Reform Commission should be abolished. Seventy says… The School Reform Commission (SRC) is, essentially, the school board for the Philadelphia School District, with the power to negotiate union contracts, set policy, pass a budget, hire a superintendent and approve or reject charter school applications. Until 2001, the District was overseen by a nine-member board appointed by the mayor. But because of poor academic performance and [and alleged] financial management [and no mention of underfunding], the state replaced it with the five-member SRC. With three members appointed by the governor and two by the mayor, the SRC can be abolished only if a majority of its members vote to do so and with the approval of the state Secretary of Education. – 3 – [Bracketed mtls and highlighting added by McDD] _ 8 PENN CENTER | 1628 JFK BLVD, SUITE 1002 | PHILADELPHIA, PA 19103 |P 215.557.3600 | WW.SEVENTY.ORG There is vocal opposition to the SRC in Philadelphia, chiefly because the City has no real control over it, and because the state (with three gubernatorial appointments) has been funding schools at a rate many consider to be insufficient. Still, some people favor keeping the SRC. Some say it isn’t to blame for the funding issues, since it doesn’t have any say in how much money is allocated to the schools by the state or city governments. Another argument is that the SRC ensures the state has some direct responsibility over Philly’s school system. Finally, others suggest that we shouldn’t abolish the SRC until we can agree on what should replace it. An elected board? An appointed board? A combination of the two? Whether you oppose the existence of the SRC or not, the important thing to know is that this is a non-binding referendum. It would have no legal effect. It’s that glorified opinion poll we were talking about. https://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/city/20140912_Phila__City_Council_will_not_put_advisory_measure_to_abolish_SRC_to_voters.html https://seventy.org/uploads/files/449931684225454787-ballot-question-overview-5-14-15.pdf