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PA Gov Removes School Commission Chair Following Approval of New Charter Schools

PA Gov. Tom Wolf

PA Gov. Tom Wolf

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that School Reform Commision (SRC) chairman and former city council member Bill Green has been demoted and that fellow SRC board member Marjorie Neff will take his place.  Neff is the retired principal of the city’s acclaimed Julia R. Masterman Demonstration School and is a 38-year veteran of the school district.  She was appointed to the board by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.  Green, who has indicated that he will now fight the move in court, was appointed by former Governor Tom Corbett.  

In a statement, Green confirmed that he will remain a part of the SRC as a commission member despite his disagreement with the governor’s administration over the legality of their decision to remove him from the chairmanship.

“I accepted the position of Chair with the understanding from the District’s own General Counsel that the Chair could not be removed from office. The SRC statute - 696(b)(2) -makes clear that no Commissioner may be removed from office except for misfeasance and malfeasance.  I hold the office of Chair and the office of Commissioner; there is no vacancy in the Chair and no legal basis for another Commissioner to be named Chair. This is important: by limiting removal to cause, the SRC statute makes clear that commissioners, once appointed, need to be free from political repercussions for their actions in office.

I have to assume, however, that the Governor also has attorneys and that he would not purposefully take an action that is contrary to the law as I believe this action is. I believe this issue needs to be resolved, so I will be filing an action in Commonwealth Court seeking a ruling on the law. I will not attempt to block the Governor’s action in the interim but I will show up for work and do my job.

Despite this difference of opinion, Green praised Neff for her work on the commission and said he would “continue to try to work with and help the Governor in my role as commissioner.”  Mayor Nutter said that he believed Wolf had the authority to make the move and that he “would respect his decision.”

The move comes two weeks after the SRC voted to approve five new charter schools.  Harrisburg Republicans asked the SRC to approve up to 27 applicants but Wolf asked the SRC to deny all 39 of them, citing cost concerns.  Neff did not vote to authorize any of the 39 possible charter school applicants.

Speaking to The Notebook, an education website about Philadelphia Public Schools, Neff said that Gov. Wolf told her “he didn’t think he could work with Green as chair” and asked her to take the position early last week:

“I thought about it, I talked to my family about it, and I decided I would do it,” she said. “The governor said it was an opportunity to work with him on his vision for public education. I thought about my skill set, experiences I’ve had, I thought I could do it.”

She said she didn’t know exactly why Wolf made the decision, but “he asked me to make a contribution. I feel for the first time in a long time we have a governor interested in reinvesting in public education, and I’m excited to work with him on that.”

In a written statement, Gov. Wolf partially explained his rationale for the personnel move:

“The School District of Philadelphia is in dire financial straits, and our children are being put at a disadvantage as a result of misguided cuts and poor decisions.  The district was forced to make major cutbacks in transportation, security, and janitorial services just to open on time last year. We must make new investments in education and provide a fresh path forward for Philadelphia’s schools.”

Wolf went on to praise Neff’s career as an educator and administrator saying:

“Marjorie has dedicated her entire career to education, and she shares my vision for investing in public education so our children have the resources they need to succeed in a modern economy,” he continued. “I am confident that Marjorie will be able to engage in a collaborative way the different interests involved in leading the school district and it will be refreshing to have an educator who understands the needs of our schools as chair. I look forward to working with her to restore cuts and reverse the public education deficit in Philadelphia.”


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