This piece comes to us courtesy of a partnership between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.
Saying the struggling Philadelphia School District is “out of time and out of options,” new Superintendent William Hite has unveiled a sweeping plan to close 37 school buildings by next fall.
All told, the District will call for 44 schools to be closed or relocated and nearly two dozen more to undergo grade changes.
Based on recent enrollment figures, roughly 17,000 children might be moving to new schools.
North Central, West, and Northwest Philadelphia would be hit particularly hard, with high-profile buildings including Strawberry Mansion, University City and Germantown high schools slated for closure.
Hite said the closings plan presents the city with tough choices – and a historic opportunity.
“At the end of this process, we believe that we will have a system that better serves all students, families, and stakeholders,” he said.
But as details of the closings leaked out earlier this week, community backlash brewed. A coalition of labor and community groups planned a protest rally at District headquarters for Thursday afternoon, and activists began lining up to denounce the plan.
Most of the displaced students will be reassigned to schools that perform no better academically than the schools being shuttered. The savings from the closures – about $28 million annually – are meaningful, but far from a game-changer.
“Is this worth the disruption of thousands of families?” asked the Rev. LeRoi Simmons of the Germantown Clergy Initiative and Parents United for Public Education.
Hite, on the job for just three months, acknowledged that the closing recommendations will cause “controversy and angst.” But he was adamant that the cash-strapped district has no choice.
“If we don’t take some of these actions now, we actually have no money to spend,” he said.
The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote on the recommendations in March, after a series of public meetings and community forums that will kick off Saturday.
THE CASE FOR CLOSING SCHOOLS
The School District is broke.
This year, the District borrowed $300 million just to pay its bills. Over the next five years, officials project a cumulative deficit of $1.1 billion.
If approved, the school closings would help plug that hole. Officials project that the moves would save the District roughly $28 million in personnel and maintenance costs next year, with those savings recurring in future years.
Any savings will be partially offset by millions of dollars in transition expenses and new investments in the receiving schools.
Whatever the exact figures, Hite said that eliminating wasteful spending on “empty seats” is critical to the District’s continued survival.
“If we don’t realize those savings, then we would have to find other ways to get that amount of revenue,” said Hite, citing a new round of layoffs or increased class sizes as possible alternatives.
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