Philadelphia Schools Suffer Huge Setback

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission has come up empty in its bid to undo a recent, devastating state Supreme Court ruling that curtailed powers it thought it had.
by | April 5, 2016 AT 5:30 PM

By Martha Woodall

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission has come up empty in its bid to undo a recent, devastating state Supreme Court ruling that curtailed powers it thought it had.

The state's top court Monday turned down the SRC's request to reconsider a ruling it handed down in February that said the commission had no power to suspend parts of the state school code. The court said that a provision about special powers in the law that led to the state takeover of the city schools in 2001 was unconstitutional.

The commission had relied on those special powers in the last few years to close schools, bypass seniority in teacher assignments, and limit charter school growth.

In a petition filed last month asking the court to reconsider, the SRC warned that the ruling could have potentially "catastrophic" consequences for the district, especially if it was required to fund unrestricted growth at the 83 charter schools in the city.

Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman, declined to comment Monday because officials still were reviewing the court's denial.

"This matter can now be considered closed finally," said Robert W. O'Donnell, the lead attorney for West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School, which brought the suit against the SRC.

He said the charter school "remains willing to negotiate its agreement with the district, as we have been since this all started."

West Philadelphia Achievement filed the suit in February 2014 after the SRC tried to impose a cap on enrollment.

The case was brought in the state Supreme Court because the school had contended that part of the takeover law the SRC used in 2013 to force charters to agree to imposed enrollment caps was unconstitutional.

In documents asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, the SRC said the court had overlooked or misunderstood part of the state takeover law.

"In view of the very high stakes at issue here and the court's apparent oversight of some critical facts and legal principles that are applicable, the district and the SRC respectfully request that the court give this case another look," the SRC said.

In its one-sentence order, the high court replied that the SRC's application for reargument was "hereby denied."

The 83 charters in the city enroll nearly 70,000 students. The school district, meanwhile, has 134,538 students enrolled.

The district's $2.8 billion proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes nearly $875 million for charters, including transportation.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer