Historic first meeting between Philly City Council and new school board

Pat Loeb
November 27, 2018 - 5:39 pm
The Philadelphia School Board sat down with the mayor and city council on Tuesday to discuss progress since it began running the district five months ago.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia School Board sat down with the mayor and city council on Tuesday to discuss progress since it began running the district five months ago. It was the first of two annual meetings required by the charter change that returned public schools to local control. 

Mayor Jim Kenney called the meeting historic and noted it was just over a year ago that he called for the School Reform Commission to dissolve itself and yield to a new school board. He praised the Board's actions so far, for instance, its new committee structure that will allow closer, more frequent and transparent contact with the public.

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"When our schools were under state control, it was easy to point fingers and lay blame elsewhere and harder to align our efforts. Now our city's future is in our own hands, right where we want it to be. Together we can ensure that there are quality schools in every Philadelphia neighborhood," he said. 

City Council's questions ran the gamut during the five hour hearing, including teaching vacancies, pension liability, school safety and minority contracting. 

While they had plenty of questions for the nine-member board and the district staff, there was a sense of collegiality that was new to Board president Joyce Wilkerson, who had also served on the now-dissolved School Reform Commission. 

"It's really important and symbolic of the partnership that we have with the administration and city council. Normally when we come we're here at a hearing and we're sitting right over there being grilled on a lot of issues. But we celebrate this opportunity to have more of a conversation and a meeting," said Wilkerson.  

Though there was little new information, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell found it productive. 

"I think this is the beginning of a positive exchange and it's going to make a big difference when we go through the budget," Blackwell said. 

Under the charter change, council has a larger role in the district than ever before with veto power over appointments and these twice annual meetings. Mayor Kenney says it's appropriate, given their commitment to provide an extra half-billion dollars for schools over the next five years.

"The investments and personal commitments that we've made in the past year reflect the kind of future that we dare to dream for this city and for its children," he said.