Pick up the pace to right-size School District

Posted: April 05, 2012

The School Reform Commission took an important step when it voted to close eight city schools, but bigger strides are needed.

With enrollment declining and debt mounting, the SRC made the difficult but necessary decision to begin reducing its inventory of excess school buildings by closing two elementary, three middle, and three high schools.

It was good to see the commission spare two highly performing schools that are producing good academic results despite the facilities' age. The Isaac A. Sheppard and E.M. Stanton Elementary schools could have justifiably been closed for being too expensive to operate. But the SRC wisely recognized the higher cost of losing two good neighborhood schools that are providing valuable lessons that should be replicated elsewhere in the district.

Despite completing one round of closings, the district still faces a monumental challenge to further streamline operations.

With declining enrollment and a $186 million budget deficit projected for the coming school year, closing and consolidating more schools must become an even higher priority.

There hasn't been a large-scale closing of city schools since 1981, and therein lies the problem. There are 70,000 empty seats citywide. The district has lost 50,000 students in the last decade, and more flee to charter schools each year.

With 155,000 students currently enrolled, district buildings are only about 67 percent occupied - not an efficient way to operate. Experts say the ideal school occupation rate is 85 percent.

The district has set an ambitious goal to shed 40,000 seats by 2014. But that's highly unlikely at the current pace. If the SRC is trying to dodge opposition by parents, students, and staff at targeted schools, it can't.

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