While many education forums have focused on policy, WURD’s listeners wanted to know what the candidates to be Philadelphia’s next mayor would do about issues that don’t get as much attention.
By Denise Clay-Murray
For many Philadelphians, the most important issue that the city’s next mayor will have to deal with is education.
From schools being closed due to asbestos to students being victimized by gun violence going to or from schools, the next mayor will be expected to partner with the School District of Philadelphia to create an environment that will help the district’s students be the best they can be.
As part of WURD’s Every Voice, Every Vote segment, we took questions from listeners on the topic of education. We then passed these questions on to the mayoral candidates to get their answers. Four of them – Allan Domb, Maria Quiñones Sanchez, Derek Green and Rebecca Rhynhart – responded by press time.
The first question came from a listener in Mt. Airy. She wanted to know if the candidates would reinstate the position of district administrator should they become mayor. She works in a school, and misses having someone higher than the principal to report issues to.
As a parent, Green gave the possibility a big thumbs up.
“I would be an enthusiastic supporter of this proposal as mayor because, as a parent, I can appreciate that there needs to be another regional point of contact before having to go to 440 North Broad,” he said.
Quiñones Sanchez believes that while there isn’t a specific district administrator for each region in place, the current structure allows for that kind of reporting.
“With our new superintendent, there is a new structure with an administrator accountable for K-8 schools and one accountable for high schools,” she said. “I am glad to see this level of accountability and transparency.”
“Our children need a mayor who will put education at the center of how my administration makes decisions, including ensuring that parents have the ability to get their questions answered and action taken by someone outside their child’s school,” Domb said. “I will support a systemwide ombudsman for parents and teachers, and regional directors to address the concerns at specific schools.”
Rhynhart said that parents need to know that the mayor has their back when they have a problem with their schools. Her administration would make sure they knew that.
“We want to be partners with parents and make sure they know where to turn,” she said. “All concerns will be addressed, and the district will have a clear process for their review that will be communicated to all stakeholders.
When the Parking Authority was taken over by the Commonwealth in the early 2000s, funding the school district was among the reasons given for the move. Over the years, members of City Council have called for an audit of the agency because they’ve felt that this funding hasn’t been forthcoming.
A listener from West Philadelphia asked what the candidates would do to put the PPA and the school district on the same page.
When she was controller, Rhynhart audited the Parking Authority, a practice she says she’ll continue as mayor. Green also said that the PPA could count on being audited in his administration so that schools are being properly funded.
Quiñones Sanchez said she would update the city’s Memorandum of Understanding with the PPA that would increase the agency’s work removing abandoned cars and negotiate a financial arrangement that would be better for the district.
Domb doesn’t necessarily believe that an audit of the PPA would be useful because all it would show is the organization’s flaws. While getting the PPA to comply is a priority, there are other ways to make sure the district is funded.
“I am proud of my efforts to increase collection of property taxes and improve the reassessment process to ensure schools were getting the funding they need,” he said. “As mayor, I will do what we already know needs to be done: get the Parking Authority to give the city the money it committed to. I am hopeful I can work with the Parking Authority’s new leadership to secure timely and full payment, but if it resists, we will move to get them to comply.”
The final question concerned bringing music education back to the district and came from a listener in West Philadelphia. While each of the candidates that responded agreed that music education is important and that they would bring it back if elected, they had different approaches to making it happen.
Quiñones Sanchez would partner with nonprofit organizations to bring music education back. Rhynhart believes that a well-rounded education includes music and art and that this is what district students deserve.
Domb has called for art and cultural programs to make unpurchased tickets to events available to students on a first-come, first-served basis because of how important music education is to a student’s overall learning experience.
Green believes that music education has been attacked in the school district, and he wants to end that attack as mayor.
“I would prioritize its return and expansion under my administration,” he said. “The arts are essential to the growth of our children, and we are doing them a disservice by depriving them of those opportunities.”
This article is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit www.everyvoice-everyvote.org. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.
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