Parker, Council battle over Board of Edu seat

Joyce Wilkerson attends a hearing Monday, April 29, about a resolution reappointing her to the Board of Education.

Mayor Cherelle Parker apparently found a loophole to allow Joyce Wilkerson to remain on the Board of Education, circumventing City Council opposition to her reappointment.

Moments after lawmakers voted to withdraw Wilkerson’s nomination Monday, a senior member of the Parker administration hand-delivered a letter to the former BOE president in the hallway outside Council chambers.

The message, along with a more formal notification to the BOE, asked Wilkerson to continue serving on the board “until such time as when I appoint a new member.” Wilkerson accepted, and Parker’s office did not comment on when she would name a replacement.

Parker’s maneuver caught Council members off guard and sent aides scrambling to make sense of the move. They had expected Parker to nominate another candidate for the board, alongside the eight BOE members approved by legislators last week.

The battle over Wilkerson’s nomination represents the first major public disagreement between Parker and Council President Kenyatta Johnson, who both stepped into their roles at the beginning of the year.

Council President Kenyatta Johnson arrives to a hearing a hearing Monday, April 29, about a resolution reappointing Joyce Wilkerson to the Board of Education.JACK TOMCZUK

Johnson did not comment on Parker’s decision.

“I’m delighted,” Wilkerson told reporters before reading the message aloud. “I’m proud of the work that we have done as a district. I’m excited about Mayor Parker wanting to continue the momentum we’ve built.”

Just minutes before, a Council majority effectively voted down her appointment.

Johnson, before the vote, said Wilkerson “very clearly” did not have the support needed to be confirmed. A Council source told Metro that at least a dozen of the body’s 17 members opposed Wilkerson.

Though charter schools – and, specifically, the handling of Black-led charters – dominated the Council’s discussion over Parker’s BOE nominees, Johnson said members had a variety of “serious concerns” about Wilkerson.

“The narrative being portrayed in the media that charter school supporters were the only ones against Ms. Wilkerson’s nomination is false,” he said during a Council hearing Monday afternoon.

However, Johnson has not detailed Council leadership’s reservations about Wilkerson, withholding them “out of respect” for her, he said.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, chair of the education committee, said late Monday afternoon in a statement that he did not support Wilkerson’s reappointment “because our schools have been inadequate under her leadership.” He cited the district’s well-documented facilities issues and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is bigger than one person,” Thomas continued. “This is about the need for change and doing what’s best for our children and families.”

Wilkerson declined to discuss Council’s actions, but she, responding to a question about charters, she said, “We have one system of public education that includes both traditional and charter schools.”

“We don’t have a perfect process, but I think we’re all committed to making sure that it operates in the interest of our children,” she continued.

City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas listens to his colleague, Curtis Jones Jr., during a hearing Monday, April 29, about a resolution reappointing Joyce Wilkerson to the Board of Education.JACK TOMCZUK

Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. pushed back on the legislative process, asking for a roll call vote, with individual members being polled, as opposed to lawmakers shouting “yay” or “nay” at designated times. His motion was defeated.

“I trust my mayor, and I trust her leadership,” Jones said. “I’m concerned that we are barely past 100 days of this new administration, and we’re not allowing the mayor to have the benefit of the doubt.”

Jones and Jeffrey “Jay” Young Jr. appeared to be the only two members present who voted against a measure withdrawing Wilkerson’s nomination.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan praised the two lawmakers and said Parker was “right to continue to push for Joyce Wilkerson’s reappointment, despite tremendous headwinds.”

“Joyce Wilkerson is a dedicated public servant who – in a completely volunteer capacity – has been at the forefront of the District clawing its way back from devastating budget cuts,” he added, in a statement.

Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Mayor John Street, was appointed chair of the School Reform Commission in 2016, and she remained on the reformed BOE when control of the district reverted to the city two years later.

She led the board until being replaced by current Board President Reginald Streater in 2022.

Parker’s nominating panel submitted a list of 27 BOE candidates to her after receiving 122 applications, and the mayor selected nine finalists earlier this month.

Board of Education President Reginald Streater attends a hearing Monday, April 29, about a resolution reappointing Joyce Wilkerson to the Board of Education.JACK TOMCZUK

In addition to Wilkerson, Streater, ChauWing Lam and Sarah-Ashley Andrews were nominated to be reappointed, and Crystal Cubbage, Cheryl Harper, Whitney Jones, Wanda Novales and Joan Stern were selected to join the board.

Council approved eight candidates Thursday, and the new nine-member board is expected to be sworn in Wednesday, May 1.

School District of Philadelphia leaders are due back at City Hall on Tuesday morning for a Council budget hearing.