PHILADELPHIA – As protesters gathered in the streets, Pennsylvania's governor and Philadelphia's mayor announced Friday that they would take three more weeks to decide if the state will takeover the city's school system.
Dozens of Philadelphia public schools, which educate 210,000 students, would be privatized and the school board would be stripped of its authority if the state assumes control.
It is considered by many to be the most ambitious education reform plan ever in the country and would be the largest school system ever run directly by a state government.
"This is a monumental decision in the history of this city and we are going to take the time to examine it and make sure we get it right," Mayor John F. Street said.
Gov. Mark Schweiker and Street had until midnight Friday to reach a decision and as negotiations reached a fevered pitch, activists blocked rush-hour traffic for a third day in protest.
They disagree with Schweiker's plan to hire private companies, including Edison Schools Inc., to run dozens of low-performing schools.
The school board met Friday afternoon, for perhaps the final time, in a regularly-scheduled session, said district spokesman Paul Hanson. Under the governor's proposal, the board would be replaced by a five-member reform commission. Anticipating this, board members packed their offices.
Meanwhile, unionized school workers awaited a ruling from the state Supreme Court on their request for an injunction to block Schweiker from seizing control.
The lawsuit argues that the state takeover law is unconstitutional, and that the Schweiker-appointed reform commission would not be accountable to city and state elected officials, taxpayers and parents.
The school district, the nation's seventh largest, is plagued by dismal test scores, a chronic teacher shortage, a $216 million budget deficit and crumbling buildings. The state had said it will take control as early as Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.