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Bill Green won’t go to court to win back the title of SRC chair

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Eight days ago, Bill Green was unceremoniously removed from his position as chair of the five-member School Reform Commission by Gov. Wolf, who named Commissioner Marjorie Neff to replace him.

Green responded that Wolf didn’t have the authority to remove him and that he would contest the action in court, while continuing to serve as a commissioner.

But on Monday, he announced a change of heart. While reiterating his belief that the governor acted unlawfully, Green said he will accept his demotion to the role of commissioner. Here is his explanation:

Working with the SRC, the School District is now in a better position than it has been in many years to ensure equity for underserved children. Bill Hite and his team first stabilized and professionalized the District: now in his Action Plan 3.0 he has described what the District could look like with appropriate funding and prioritization to provide the best education to every child.

This is not a time for distractions. I believe I am correct on the merits, but I will not risk compromising support for the District by pursuing a court action at the same time as the Plan’s rollout. Alongside Marjorie Neff and my colleagues, I will continue to make lawful, considered decisions that support Dr. Hite’s vision and the urgent needs of our school children – whether about charter schools, budgets, or labor negotiations – however difficult or unpopular they may be politically.

That is why I find the Governor’s recent intervention disturbing. The Governor’s spokesperson stated that I was removed, in part, because of the Charter vote last month. It is extremely important that the SRC is able to conduct its business without fear of shifts in the political climate or punishment for political independence. It is perhaps even more important that we are perceived by the public to be independent of political moods. When we approve a labor agreement or vote on Charter school applications or exercise our extraordinary statutory powers by suspending the School Code, the public needs to be confident that the votes reflect Commissioners’ consciences rather than selfish motives or politics of any kind.

For as long as I served as Chair, we were not influenced by the threat of loss of position and prestige. The SRC must retain that autonomy.

When the Chair is removed, the Chair is not the only one affected, the entire body is affected.

According to attorneys, a lawsuit would be decided based on the plain meaning of the statute and the legislative history.

24 P.S § 6-696(b)(2) makes clear that no commissioner may be removed from ‘office’ except for cause. I held the office of Chair. Merriam Webster explains that an ‘office’ is ‘a position of authority to exercise a public function.’ There is no suggestion in the statute that ‘office,’ which includes Chair, has any but this plain meaning.

Additionally, the statute originally included the phrase ‘serves at the pleasure of’ – language that was later intentionally deleted. Whether deleted to prevent Governor Rendell from replacing his predecessors’ appointees, including then-Chairman Nevels as Chair, or for the reasons I cite above is not relevant.

I do not believe that a lawsuit with the Governor, one that I am told would require me to sue my colleagues and/or Marjorie Neff, is in the best interests of children at this time. I gave up my seat in City Council to fight for children and the future of our City and will continue that fight with my colleagues and Dr. Hite and his team.

The Governor’s vision, and the vision of the SRC since I have been serving, has been to help Bill Hite and his team succeed with respect to the implementation of their plans. This includes Action Plan 3.0 and labor negotiations regarding compensation, health care, work rules and seniority.

I pray the Governor will urge the SRC to continue in that commitment and have our back when we do so.

Lawsuits can wait. Harmony needs to prevail. The Governor has given the PFT a political win, a win that does nothing to advance the interests of children. I ask the Governor to stick with the SRC on the substance of Dr. Hite’s vision for the benefit of Philadelphia families and our City’s future.

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