I know… It’s not popular to suggest that we get rid of a democratic institution which ideally represents public interest and provides accountability, as well. It’s the idea that collectively we have the power to change the outcome of our children’s education which gives the school board their untouchablity as far as reforms go. I’m here to tell you that system just doesn’t work. As concerned citizens we should eliminate the role politics play in the education of our students. At least, at the local level. It is clearly evident, and probably even more so now, that the Reading School Board has failed and will continue to fail to do what is right by our students because of the constant bickering between what “they think they know about education” and what educators actually know from experience about education. The board is that red tape we all hate in our governmental bureaucracies, the type of red tape that slows progress down like cold weather slows molasses leaking from a tree. Control of our schools should be given to the Mayor, whose ultimate job is to enhance the well-beings of his constituents. Later, I’ll get into how this process is actually working in cities across the U.S. where the Mayor holds some sort of control over how policy is produced and followed. But first, let’s get into some back-story.
On January 6, 2011 The top five administrators, including the Acting Superintendent, of the Reading school district resigned in a letter that was sent to the Board of Directors and signed with all five names. The letter uses stern words to describe “Philosophical differences (between themselves and the board) on how to best operate the Reading School District…” In that very same letter the administrators declared that “Reading High School is the poorest academically performing high school in the Commonwealth.” It’s important to note that tensions between Drue Miles (Acting Superintendent) and the Reading School Board have been brewing for some time. In fact, at a recent school board meeting on October 20th, Miles suggested that the school board was not letting him run the district because of his impression that board members continually over-stepped their boundaries. Some detractors argue that the tensions arose because Mr. Miles tenure was a temporary one. He and his team had been contracted on 200-day contracts after the failed nation-wide attempt to hire a superintendent after then Superintendent Frank Vecchio resigned in early 2011. What they fail to emphasize enough is that this very same nation-wide effort to find a new head man in charge was actually shelved until just recently. That is January 7th, 2011. What is clear however is, year after year our students have failed to perform; just recently in 2011 83% of Reading schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress. In fact they have not reached any of the important academic goals set by the Commonwealth in the last 5 years! I won’t finger point and place all the blame on the clear ineptitude of the Reading School Board, there are a lot of factors which have contributed to these causes. But let’s be frank, if anything please be frank with yourself, our students have been underperfoming for decades and our elected officials have done little if anything to change this course around. So why after years of unfulfilled promises and unfulfilled duties should they keep their jobs? The time is now for change!
But there is hope for us to take decisive action. There have been breakthroughs in other cities where control over cities’ public educational system was given up to mayoral control. Kenneth Wong in his book “The Education mayor: improving America’s schools,” describes this model as [Intergrated Governance] “School district governance is incorporated into the governance of the local municipality.” In essence the Mayor is responsible for appointing the right individuals to effectively lead the cities educational responsibilities. In order to make this work these officials need to be directly accountable to the Mayor and that in turn the mayor is accountable to the public who elected them to their posts.The Mayor would have the responsibitly to appoint a Chancellor of education, or Superintendent who has a stellar educational background. Someone proven and capable to institute broad reforms. (Because it is clear that we need them). Someone who directly reports to the mayor and therefore is responsible to the people for the progress of failures of it’s students. The mayor also needs to appoint someone who has the business acumen to run a business into the black. Someone who through experience and education has dealt with multi-million dollar budgets and is able to effectively manage and control the school districts finances; something this current board has been unable to do. I bet you didn’t know that the Reading School District complied a food tab of more than 76,000 dollars between 05’ and 08. A responsible business man or woman would know this is unacceptable and someone who is appointed by the mayor would be directly accountable for his or her actions. The rest of this committee should be appointed from community members at large who have proven to be consensus building, results-driven individuals. These systems are working, from our own backyard in Harrisburg where graduation rates were improved by some 73%, to bigger cities such as New York, Chicago and countless others who have decided this was the best approach towards improving the education of it’s students. So my question to you is: If this could be done in many urban cities, once facing many of the same problems we currently face today why can’t it happen here?
Look I’m not saying I have all the answers, but what I have presented to you is a framework for us to work with. The status quo is no longer acceptable and frankly our students deserve better. Maybe this monumental change is just the spark we need as concerned citizens of this city to finally put all the bickering aside and do what is right by our students. To finally grant and empower our newly-elected mayor, and future mayors to come, the power to appoint real educators, with distinguished experience to serve not themselves but to serve the students whom genuinely need the help and don’t have the time to wait for progress to seep through this nepotist board. So that is why I will start a petition to include on the November ballot to dissolve the school board and grant those powers to the the Mayor’s office by 2014. Tell me what you guys think? What are some of the opportunities of this new venture, what are some of the risks, and what are some of the obstacles we face to bringing the change that we desperately need to city hall. Feedback is always welcome!