Governor Wolf wants Marjorie Neff to be the SRC’s last chair. But then what?
by Jeremy Nowak
Last Sunday, Governor Wolf replaced Bill Green as the School Reform Commission Chair with longtime public school educator and fellow SRC member, Marjorie Neff.
What does this tell us about the Governor ‘s SRC strategy, his broader perspective on public education and overall governance? I interpret the move through three lenses: politics, temperament, and policy.
Politically, the move has to do with having won an election. To the victor goes the spoils! Neff is more aligned with the Governor as shown by the recent charter vote, while Green is clearly more independent.
Bill Green was an independent voice on Philadelphia’s City Council and there were those who wondered what kind of a commission chair he would make, given his wild card reputation. Who can forget Mayor Nutter’s less than gracious reaction to Green’s appointment? Nutter viewed Green as the critic he could never please, much as Mayor Street once viewed then Councilman Nutter.
The fact is, Bill Green has worked well with other commission members, built a strong sense of team, and has done what a good chair does for his CEO, Bill Hite: Worked behind the scenes to support his efforts and take the inevitable political hits. He has been anything but the lone ranger some feared.
Governor Wolf is heavily aligned with the teacher’s unions who provided votes and financial support for him in the general election. They were furious at the Green-led SRC for attempting to impose new terms outside of the collective bargaining process; something the SRC believes it can do based on the law that formed it. The removal of Green can be interpreted as a down payment in the Governor’s political payback plan to the teacher’s union.
The official word from the SRC is that all is well. They will continue to work together as a team. They support each other and the move from Green to Neff does not really change very much. Unofficially I am not so sure.
A second interpretation has to do with temperament. This move is consistent with other recent actions by the Governor, who has taken bold moves to reverse appointments made by his predecessor. He wants to make it clear that he knows how to wield the power of an executive.
This kind of decisiveness can be a useful negotiating strategy. When people think you will act and do the unexpected, you gain some advantage, at least early in political relationships. As for the Green move, nobody saw it coming, especially two days before the Governor’s inaugural budget address.
If you want the SRC to be dissolved, the last thing you want is a politically-independent Chair with his own political relationships at the State Capitol. The Governor told us he favors abolishing the SRC during the campaign, in a primary that often sounded more like a school board election.
But like other sudden moves from the new Governor, it was politically awkward.
First, the communication. Governor Wolf convinced Marjorie Neff who then told Bill Green that he was about to lose his chairmanship. The other commissioners were similarly given the news by Marjorie Neff, but only after it had already dribbled out from Harrisburg.
The Governor’s people later said that Bill Green was hard to work with. Why they felt it necessary to say that is anybody’s guess. After all, Bill Green is from the same political party. A year ago he was viewed as a serious candidate for mayor. Who wants political enemies from the same party at this stage in the new administration?
It was also awkward because Green has done a very good job building relationships across the political aisle in Harrisburg. Why do this now when you need to forge coalition around the budget and school finance? (Besides, the Governor may not have the authority to do what he did. By statute, the Governor has the authority to appoint the Chair but it does not say explicitly if the governor has the authority to remove the chair, unless there is cause. The courts will decide.) Continue reading