Sweeping Changes and School Closings Proposed for Philly

"A Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia's Public Schools" was laid out Tuesday morning. The proposal is a sweeping overhaul of how the city's schools are operated.

The Philadelphia school district could close as many as 64 schools and eliminate hundreds of central office jobs in the next few years.

A sweeping reorganization proposal made public Tuesday includes more than half a billion dollars in budget cuts by 2017.

It's called "A Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia's Public Schools" and it includes a proposal to divvy up the remaining schools among “achievement networks” led by teams of educators or nonprofit institutions.

The achievement networks would have 20 to 30 schools each and be connected by either geography or a common, creative approach to teaching and learning. The leaders of the network, which could include successful principals, would have contracts based on performance and be required to serve students of all abilities and situations equitably, reports thenotebook.org.

These networks would be in addition to groups of schools run by charter management organizations, or CMOs.

The planners expect 40 percent of students to be enrolled in charter schools by 2017, according to thenotebook.org.

Under the five year plan, 40 underutilized or under-performing schools would be closed next year. Six more schools would be closed each year after that until 2017, bringing the total number of closed schools to 64.

Decentralization would also result in the staff at school headquarters to be reduced from 600 to 250. Operating expenses would be cut by $122 million. $156 million would be cut in wages and benefits. There would also be a 7% reduction per child in charter schools which would be frozen at that number for three years.


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Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen says the plan is designed to ensure the struggling district has safe, high-quality schools and is financially stable.

"With so many children moving into the charters it has left many of our schools underutilized," said Knudsen. "There are fewer people for which the buildings are designed. We can no longer support that structure." 

"We're behind almost all other urban districts even as our grades are climbing," said Feather Houstoun of the School Reform Commission. "Even though our safety record has improved the parents are still choosing alternatives to district run schools because of safety concerns."

The state's largest school district has recently been dealing with huge deficits and declining enrollment. It is already facing a $218 million spending gap for the upcoming 2012-13 school year.

Knudsen says closing buildings and streamlining the central office will make the district more efficient. The proposal still must be approved by the School Reform Commission. Several public hearings will take place beginning in May.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry T. Jordan released the following statement regarding the plan: 

This restructuring plan has nothing to do with raising student achievement. The district provided a business model, not a research-based plan for turning around or supporting schools.

By closing 64 schools and transferring more and more children out of publicly accountable, neighborhood schools and into charter, cyber-charter and private schools, the School District of Philadelphia is saying it is no longer wants to be in the business of educating children. It would rather manage a ‘portfolio’ than do the hard work my members do every day educating children.

This is a cynical, right-wing and market-driven plan to privatize public education, to force thousands of economically disadvantaged families to select from an under-funded hodge-podge of EMO- and charter-company-run schools and to convert thousands of professional and family-sustaining positions into low-paying, high-turnover jobs.

I find it ironic that the district chose Election Day to announce it is dismantling our public school system, which is the foundation of our democracy. Every person who cares about democracy and about educating economically disadvantaged children, children of color, immigrant children and children with special needs should stand up to the SRC and tell them our children and our schools aren’t for sale.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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