Phila. school closings, 2013 budget plan on agenda for SRC meeting

Signs campaigning for the school to be kept open hang in the window at Isaac Sheppard Elementary. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )
Signs campaigning for the school to be kept open hang in the window at Isaac Sheppard Elementary. ( CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer )
Posted: March 29, 2012

Thursday's School Reform Commission meeting is shaping up to be the most crucial in recent memory, with decisions expected on nine school closings and the introduction of a 2013 budget that could contain a shortfall of up to $400 million.

School closings have been years in the making. The Philadelphia School District has long said it has tens of thousands of empty seats and too many aging buildings.

It has lost more than 50,000 students in a decade, with many fleeing to an expanding network of charter schools.

District officials held dozens of community hearings around the city, and the five members of the SRC must now make the politically fraught choice of whether to shutter nine schools - Drew, FitzSimons, Harrison, Levering, Pepper, High School for Business, Sheppard, Sheridan West, and E.M. Stanton.

The SRC will vote on each school individually. Two decisions will be especially closely watched - Stanton and Sheppard.

Both are small, high-performing neighborhood elementary schools that educate mostly low-income, minority children and have distinguished themselves for robust community partnerships, strong leadership, and cohesive faculties.

But both Stanton, in South Philadelphia, and Sheppard, in West Kensington, are housed in old buildings that are costly to repair.

Supporters of Stanton, in yellow shirts, and Sheppard boosters, dressed in purple, have been regulars at district meetings over the last few months and are expected to pack Thursday night's meeting, scheduled for 5:30 at the district's North Broad Street headquarters.

Stanton supporters said Wednesday that they would have good news to announce at the meeting - a sizable financial commitment to help keep Stanton open.

Real estate developer Ken Goldenberg, CEO of the Goldenberg Group, said the organization's charitable arm will donate approximately $50,000 - a tithe of its profits from the Carpenter Square project, rising near the school located at 17th and Christian.

"We're concerned with what's transpiring," Goldenberg said in an interview. "We're moved by the accomplishments of the school, and we're committed to trying to help however we can."

Goldenberg said he worked with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson to brainstorm a plan for how he might help Stanton. In addition to the money, the organization will also provide construction management services for future school repair, marketing assistance to help improve enrollment, and help in soliciting other donations for the school.

"It just feels that wherever you can positively reward this kind of effort, these kinds of accomplishments, you want to do it," said Goldenberg.

Mark and Jill Scott of MR Scott Development L.L.C. also have pledged $15,000 from personal funds to Stanton, Mark Scott said Wednesday.

Susan Kettell, a retired Stanton teacher active in the fight to keep the school open, said she was on pins and needles.

"This is such a good place," Kettell said. "It shouldn't be closed."

Sheppard teacher Jamie Roberts said that school's boosters were optimistic, but ready for the waiting to be over, no matter what the decision is.

"Regardless of whether it's a thumbs up or thumbs down, we are trying to figure out how to present it to the kids - to show them that what we did was really important, and that no matter what, it was a victory, a lesson about fighting for what you believe in," Roberts said.

Also scheduled for the SRC meeting is the introduction of a proposed lump-sum budget for the 2012-13 year.

The district must still cut $26 million from its 2011-12 budget, which was adopted at $2.7 billion, and officials have warned that the prospects for 2013 are also grim.

Officials have said the gap will be between $100 million and $400 million, depending on several variables that Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen is expected to outline at the meeting.

A final 2012-13 budget must be adopted by May 31.

The meeting will be streamed live on the district's website and aired live on its public access cable channel.

It's likely to be a marathon meeting, with more than 80 speakers signed up to testify.


School Closing Votes Thursday

The School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on nine possible closings.

The schools on the list:

Drew Elementary, 3724 Warren St. Students would go to Locke, Middle Years Academy, Locke, or Martha Washington. Would close this year.

FitzSimons High, 2601 W. Cumberland St. Some students would go to Strawberry Mansion; eighth and 12th graders only would attend FitzSimons during the 2012-13 academic year, and then the school would close.

Harrison Elementary, 1012 W. Thompson St. Students would go to Dunbar, Ludlow, or Spring Garden. Would close this year.

Levering Elementary, 6600 Ridge Ave. Students would go to Dobson, Cook-Wissahickon, Mifflin, or AMY Northwest. Would close this year.

Pepper Middle School, 2901 S. 84th St. School would be phased out, dropping a grade each year and closing in 2016.

Philadelphia High School for Business, 540 N 13th St. School would be phased out, dropping a grade each year and closing in 2015.

Sheppard Elementary, 120 W. Cambria St. Students would go to Julia deBurgos or Hunter. Would close this year.

Sheridan West Academy, 3701 Frankford Ave. School would be phased out, dropping a grade each year, and closing in 2014.

E.M. Stanton Elementary, 1700 Christian St. Students would go to Arthur or Childs. Would close this year.


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

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