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Philadelphia School District could shutter 40 underutilized schools to close deficit

The overhaul would also freeze non-personnel spending until 2016 and reduce Central Office.

Plagued by a massive deficit and persistent school violence, the School District of Philadelphia today announced a drastic plan to overhaul the district.

Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen said the plan would call for closing 40 underforming and underutilized schools next year and possibly another 24 schools by 2017. The district will also look to restructure labor contracts, freeze non-personnel spending until 2016 and privatize maintenance and transportation services.

"If we don’t close these schools, and we just keep them up — and a lot of them have very low utilization — we’re blowing about $33 million,” Knudsen said at a press conference. “We can’t afford that.”

The district is facing a $218 million shortfall for the year that starts July 1, and the five-year plan projects a deficit of $1.1 billion without these measures, Knudsen said. It also relies on actual value initiative that would generate an extra $90 million from property taxes, but that must be approved by City Council.

Additionally, the district will reduce Central Office staff and put out RFPs for achievement networks, which will provide resources and support to clusters of schools. The networks will have performance contracts that will include safety benchmarks and other standards.

The plan needs the approval of the School Reform Commission. The district will also schedule five community sessions to get input from community members.