Philadelphia School District Plans to Close Dozens of Schools

(NY Times) PHILADELPHIA — Like many public schools here, University City High School is underused, underfinanced and underperforming.

Nearly 80 percent of its 11th-grade students read below grade level in statewide tests this year, while 85 percent failed to make the grade in math. Last year, about only a quarter of its students participated in precollege testing like the SAT.

Largely because of the lure of local charter schools, the school is one-quarter full, with fewer than 600 students for its nearly 2,200 seats. It needs major work on its infrastructure, including lighting and heating systems, that would cost an estimated $30 million.

Now, facing deep financial problems, the Philadelphia School District has proposed an unprecedented downsizing that would close 37 campuses by June — roughly one out of six public schools, including University City. If the sweeping plan is approved, the district says it will improve academic standards by diverting money used for maintaining crumbling buildings to hire teachers and improve classroom equipment.

The 237-school district faces a cumulative budget deficit of $1.1 billion over the next five years, after $419 million in state cuts to educational financing this year. The district’s problems are compounded by the end of federal stimulus money and rising pension costs.

Even after borrowing $300 million to pay the bills for this academic year, the district faces a deficit of $27.6 million, a figure that officials say will rise sharply in coming years.

Its problems are worsened by having to maintain buildings that are drastically underused. Among 195,000 student “seats,” 53,000 are empty, according to the district’s new superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., who argues that the solution is to close the schools, sell their buildings and transfer students into those that remain open. Some middle schools would be converted to elementary schools, and vice versa, and many students would be moved to different schools, sometimes in different neighborhoods.

In all, 17,000 students and more than 1,100 teachers would be affected by closings, program changes and new grade configurations. Schools that would be closed were selected on the basis of their physical condition, usage, academic record and cost per student.

Continue reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/31/education/philadelphia-district-may-close-37-schools.html?hp&_r=2&

Recent Posts