Editor's Note

Editor’s Note: Philadelphia could use a lesson in school board transparency

A mayor-appointed BOE gives the impression that board members are beholden to the mayor and his interests.

A general view of the School District of Philadelphia offices.

A general view of the School District of Philadelphia offices. Paul Marotta/Getty Images

“In Loco Parentis” is the Latin phrase meaning “in the place of a parent.” In Philadelphia public schools, teachers bear this burden daily when they promise to protect and educate students. One could argue that the Philadelphia Board of Education is, by extension, also acting in that capacity when it adopts policies that affect students and their parents. These board members are made up of professors, lawyers, former City Council staff and regular moms and dads. And they are all appointed by the mayor – not elected. 

The board should reflect the will of the stakeholders – the parents, students, teachers and residents of Philadelphia – not the mayor. Having the mayor appoint the BOE gives the impression that board members share his interests and will carry out his agenda. If they don’t, they risk losing their positions or a shot at a higher office down the line. How can we be sure they are objective public servants who hold the interests of Philadelphia’s children, parents and teachers at heart?  

Just look what happened in Trenton about 10 years ago: Then-Mayor Tony Mack appointed his nephew to an empty seat on the city’s school board, demonstrating the most obvious form of nepotism. His nephew, a lawyer with no experience in education, was appointed to an unexpired term. The nephew was listed in public documents as Mack’s campaign treasurer for his 2010 mayoral campaign just days before the FBI raided Mack’s home in July 2012 on suspicion of crimes of corruption and cronyism. 

In this issue, we polled Philadelphia mayoral candidates about appointed versus elected school boards – and were surprised to learn that even though each respondent acknowledged there was an issue with transparency regarding the BOE, not one Democrat said they would change the current structure.  

It’s a curious thing. Since more than half the city’s annual budget goes toward the school district, shouldn’t taxpayers choose who the district’s policymakers are? With our next mayor being chosen in a few months, it’s time to put the decision-making power back in the hands of the people.