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October 31, 2017

Report: Mayor Kenney planning speech on future of Philadelphia schools

Education Schools
Mayor Jim Kenney; Thom Carroll photo Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

In this file photo from Jan. 12, 2017, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney answers questions during an interview in his City Hall office.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney will reportedly deliver a speech Thursday on the current state and future of the Philadelphia school system, whose longtime governing body could be on the verge of disbandment.

A spokesperson for the mayor told WHYY News that Kenney will address the school's district's finances and governance structure later this week, though further details were not immediately available.

The Kenney administration will brief reporters on Kenney's address later Wednesday afternoon. But it will bar reporters from sharing any info from the briefing until an embargo expires at midnight Thursday.

The planned speech comes as Philadelphia's School Reform Commission, formed in 2001 after the state took over the School District of Philadelphia, moves toward a possible vote to dissolve in the coming months. The five-member panel has overseen the expansion of Philadelphia's charter schools from 37 in 2001 to 86 in 2017, one of the highest concentrations in the country.

If the SRC comes to an end, Mayor Kenney could inherit broad discretion to form a local school board and reshape the city's educational landscape.

The school district faces a widening budget deficit in the coming years, with an uncertain path forward for scarce state education funding and revenue sources the city can tap to support schools.

A new contract between the district and the teachers' union, reached in June to end a four-and-a-half-year struggle, alone added $270 million to the current $979 million deficit, the district's chief financial officer recently said. Teachers who had gone years without raises received retroactive percentage increases and lump sum payments, though the sustainability of the contract at current staffing levels has been called into question. 

It's not yet clear how Mayor Kenney would address a future balance between the city's charter and public schools. The SRC is currently comprised of three gubernatorial appointees and two mayoral appointees.