Philly district seeks input on which schools to close

File photo: Chairman Pedro Ramos (center) at the School Reform Commission meeting. Thomas Knudsen sits to the left of Ramos. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
File photo: Chairman Pedro Ramos (center) at the School Reform Commission meeting. Thomas Knudsen sits to the left of Ramos. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 27, 2012

The Philadelphia School District is preparing to close roughly 40 schools in June, and officials want your opinion on how they should pick which ones to shutter.

Really.

Though the district engaged the public in a months-long process before closing eight schools last year, there was some skepticism around the process - how were the criteria developed? And why was an internal list of potential closure targets developed before the public had any say?

Danielle Floyd, the official overseeing the closing process, said that this time, the district wants to hear more before it starts compiling a list of schools that might be closed.

"Folks wanted to understand at a high level, at a policy level, the types of trade-offs about the decisions we were making," Floyd said. "We didn't want to assume anything; we wanted to ask them what they were thinking."

Floyd said that this time, there is no internal list of schools that might be targeted.

At a meeting Tuesday at district headquarters, 70 parents, community members, and others interested in education gathered to talk it over.

They were all given tiny, handheld polling devices to answer questions in real time - how important is it that ninth graders be able to walk to school? What do you think most contributes to the poor academic performance of a certain school? Should there be separate middle schools, or should students go straight from a K-8 school to a high school? Should students attend school based solely on where they live?

In the last decade, tens of thousands of students have shifted into charter schools, leaving the district with 70,000 excess seats and a stable of costly, aging buildings. And a financial crisis - officials had to borrow $300 million this year just to cover payroll - means that schools must be closed quickly.

Officials estimate the district is spending more than $30 million annually for empty seats.

"Doing nothing is not an option," said Thomas Knudsen, the district's chief recovery officer.

School Reform Commissioner Wendell Pritchett agreed.

The $30-million-plus "is wasted money," Pritchett said. "That is money that could be used for hiring music teachers and art teachers, and improving after-school programs, and doing all the things that our children deserve."

The meetings will continue through Oct. 13. Two were held Tuesday; four more are scheduled. They are all cosponsored by a range of community groups, from the Philadelphia Right to Education Task Force to the United Way.

Opinions will also be gathered via Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail.

Views gathered at the meetings will be collected into a report that should be available on the district's website in October. Officials are expected to announce which schools might close in November.

Another round of hearings will then be held, and the School Reform Commission will vote on the closures next year.


Phila. School Closing Meetings

The Philadelphia School District is holding a series of meetings to discuss "the priorities that should guide decisionmaking" for school closings.

The meetings will be:

Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon, West Philadelphia High, 4901 Chestnut St.

Tuesday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Kensington CAPA High, 1901 N. Front St.

Oct. 4, 10/4, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1601 N. 12th St.

Oct. 13, 10 a.m. to noon, CAPA High, 901 S. Broad St.


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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