9 schools facing the ax

Posted: November 03, 2011

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT yesterday unveiled what leaders called the "first step" in a plan to close and consolidate schools - a step that some members of the School Reform Commission said left something to be desired.

"It's incumbent upon you guys to give us more of a timetable," Joseph Dworetzky, the longest-serving SRC member, told Acting CEO and Superintendent Leroy Nunery after a presentation of the district's recommendations at a packed SRC meeting. "I don't think it works to just say, 'Here's two years.' "

The plan includes 31 recommendations for the SRC to consider implementing over the next two school years - including closing nine schools, selling four district properties, relocating one school and reconfiguring grades at 17 schools.

On top of the sale of school buildings last year, the proposed moves eliminate about 14,500 "empty seats" from the district.

The district said its goal is to slash 40,000 of 70,000 empty seats districtwide - meaning that yesterday's announcement won't be the last.

"There are multiple stages to this," Nunery said.

"This framework allows us to keep coming back to it. Every couple of years we're going to see a refresh of it."

Nunery added:

"It doesn't mean we're going to be closing schools every year."

One big forthcoming change missing from yesterday's proposal is action on the city's high schools and career technical schools.

Only two high schools - Philadelphia High School for Business and the all-boys Fitzsimons, both in North Philadelphia - were among the schools proposed for closure.

But with the high schools operating at only 61 percent capacity, others could be targeted in the next round, Nunery said after yesterday's SRC meeting.

SRC Interim Chairman Wendell Pritchett and Chief Education Officer Lori Schorr, also an executive adviser for the district, both said more details are needed before further action is taken.

Schorr said that with the empty-seat number widely known, people expected to hear about more schools slated for closure.

"If there are other schools that fit, I think we need a quick process to have those revealed," Pritchett said.

"What we don't want to do is just shut buildings down or make a whole lot of changes without talking with the public, without vetting everything that we do," Nunery said.

After the SRC meeting, which drew several supporters for E.M. Stanton Elementary - a school recommended for closure - Nunery said the district needs to look at incurred costs and money saved from this first step as it prepares to make more decisions.

"You can see just with one building how people react," he said.

"We have to be very careful."

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