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December 27, 2017

Wolf: Philadelphia schools will officially return to local control

State officials sign off on School Reform Commission's move to dissolve

Education Philadelphia School District
Carroll - School District of Philadelphia Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The School District of Philadelphia on North Broad Street.

The School District of Philadelphia officially will be in city hands next summer.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday that Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera had signed off on the move this week.

The district had been declared distressed in December 2001 by then-Education Secretary Charles Zogby. The state then established the School Reform Commission, a five-member body comprised of three members selected by the governor and two by the mayor to oversee the school district.

RELATED: Will audit findings spark a Philly takeover of the PPA?

During most of its 16 years, the SRC was at odds with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and other public education activists, who labeled the state takeover as a failed experiment. And amid growing calls against the panel combined in recent years with public support from Wolf, Mayor Jim Kenney and others, the SRC voted to dissolve last month and return control of Philly's schools to the city.

"Quality public schools are essential for our economy and our future, and the improvements made by the district in recent years have been significant,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement. "Restoring district operations to a locally-selected board of education will only allow those improvements to continue, and will better serve the needs of the district’s students and schools. I commend Mayor (Jim) Kenney, Superintendent (William) Hite, and the administrators, teachers and parents of the Philadelphia school district for their commitment to improving public education in our largest city."

Rivera stated this week the district is no longer in distressed, having made "financial and academic improvements during the tenure of the SRC."

"While I commend the SRC and the district for its work to improve the academic and financial condition of the district, I am also aware that the mayorally-appointed Board of Education will continue to face many challenges as it becomes the governing authority for the District, including addressing the District's projected deficit," Rivera wrote this week in a letter to SRC Chairwoman Joyce Wilkerson.

In a statement, Wilkerson thanked the education department for moving the process forward.

"This is an important next step to return our schools to local control," Wilkerson said.

The district and the city plan to place control of the schools under a nine-member education board appointed by Kenney. On Dec. 14, Kenney laid out the process to pick those board members.

According to the rules described in the City Charter, the mayor first will appoint a 13-member panel which will have 40 days to nominate 27 candidates for the school board. Kenney will then select nine of those candidates to serve on the board.

The 13-member panel, set to be formed in January, will be comprised of nine Philadelphians who serve among the highest-ranking officers in five types of organizations – chambers of commerce, Philadelphia institutions of higher learning, community organizations, education organizations and labor groups. Kenney will also choose four other city residents.