Revised Philadelphia school closings coming next week, no details available at city council hearing

Philadelphia School District William R. Hite Jr.
Philadelphia School District William R. Hite Jr.

Begging for the survival of 37 schools in the Philadelphia School District, community leaders pleaded with Philadelphia City Council members during an emotional four-hour hearing.

“Many of our schools are already struggling to build support for our youth and yet, every year, more and more resources are taken to improve those supports,” said Erika Almiron, executive director of Juntos, a Latino immigrant community led organization.

Changes will be made to the plan to close district-run schools, but the people won’t know more information until a week before the decision is made.

Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. will make adjustments to his plan and the revisions will be made public sometime next week. Members of City Council heard input on the closings yesterday, but the School Reform Commission will vote to adopt the plan on March 7.

Hite said the school district is facing a $1.3 billion deficit over five years. The district lost 60, 000 students in the last 15 years.

“We cannot spend money that we do not have on empty seats and empty space,” Hite said.

He called the recommendation to close the schools drastic but necessary.

The district has been criticized, Hite said, for proposing to close schools in poor, mostly black neighborhoods. Yet, under closer surveillance, “you will see that their student achievement levels are dismal,” he said.

“Even if we had more money, if only for a year, it is difficult to justify investing in schools that are not serving the needs of our children,” Hite said.

Hite said the district would save about $28 million yearly and  $140 million a year over five years if the 37 schools closed.  But this does not include relocation costs of an estimated 17,000 students.

“Some of the schools are struggling even to provide the most basic education, our resources are being spread too thin across too many schools,” Hite said.

Councilman David Oh said the suddenness and drastic nature of the actions being taken are what seem offensive to the people, and that they “seem to be motivated by financial failure.”

Hite said past mismanagement of the district’s finances is what led to the current financial issues.

Oh said the School Reform Commission has been in charge of the school district for the last 10 years and is run by Harrisburg and particularly by Gov. Tom Corbett.

“It would seem to me the SRC should take responsibly for paying for the (one-year moratorium on school closings) until we are ensured,” he said.

Oh asked if it’s too late to change the plan so it is motivated by better education, and not simply by “saving dollars.”

Hite said closing the schools would eventually help the remainder of the education system.



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