4 Philadelphia schools saved, 23 closing after SRC vote
PHILADELPHIA - March 7, 2013 (WPVI) -- Four Philadelphia schools have been saved, while 23 others will close, after the School Reform Commission voted Thursday night.
Bayard Taylor Elementary School
Paul Robeson High School
Theodore Roosevelt Middle School
Thomas M. Peirce Elementary School
Alexander Wilson Elementary School
Anna B. Pratt Elementary School
Anna H. Shaw Middle School
Charles Carroll High School
Communications Technology School
Edward Bok Technical High School
Fairhill Elementary School
General John F. Reynolds Elementary School
George Pepper Middle School
George Washington Elementary School
Germantown High School
John G. Whittier Elementary School
John L. Kinsey Elementary School
Joseph C. Ferguson Elementary School
Joseph Leidy Elementary School
Leslie P. Hill Elementary School
Robert E. Lamberton High School
Robert Fulton Elementary School
Roberts Vaux Promise Academy
Sheridan West Academy
Stephen A. Douglas High School
University City High School
Walter G. Smith Elementary School
The following recommendations will take effect at the start of the 2013-14 school year:
Though supporters of public education staged a massive rally Thursday at school system headquarters in the city and more than a dozen people were arrested on disorderly conduct charges, hours later officials voted to close 23 schools.
The School Reform Commission spared only four schools after hearing emotional pleas from among the hundreds of people who packed the commission meeting room and an overflow space immediately after the rally.
"This was a difficult vote, but it focused on our goal to provide safe, high-quality seats while being fiscally responsible," commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said in a statement afterward.
Officials contended the cash-strapped system couldn't afford to keep open the 27 buildings, more than 10 percent of the district's schools. Many of them are under-enrolled and in poor condition. But opponents said the move would irreparably damage dozens of neighborhoods and further fuel a student exodus from the district.
At the rally, the main street in front of the building had to be closed amid chants of "Children first!" and "Fix schools, don't close them." American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was among those arrested, according to Philadelphia teachers union chief Jerry Jordan.
During the meeting afterward, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who had four schools in her district on the closure list, implored school officials to call for a moratorium while local and state leaders work out alternatives.
"What's about to happen will have a catastrophic effect on public education in Philadelphia," Bass said before the vote. "This doesn't have to happen. ... There are so many other options."
Two of the schools were later spared.
School officials have insisted their financial situation is dire. The commission had to borrow $300 million to make ends meet this year, and projections show the district will accumulate a nearly $1.4 billion deficit over five years without a radical overhaul that includes major closures.
The district would save about $24.5 million annually through the downsizing, officials said.
But community members are concerned by the potential for blight, longer walks for younger students - sometimes through dangerous neighborhoods - and combining students from rival areas in the same school.
Totiana Myers, a sophomore at Paul Robeson High School, which was on the closure list, said the building she'll be sent to instead is academically inferior and unsafe.
"Would you send your children to be positive examples in a dangerous school?" she asked the commissioners.
Parent Antione Little noted that Superintendent William Hite and Commissioner Sylvia Simms had a police escort when they, on another occasion, joined community members to walk the proposed route from his daughter's current school, Peirce Elementary, to her new school. The much longer path travels past drug corners and abandoned buildings, Little said.
"Imagine doing this every day with no police escort," Little told commissioners.
Both Peirce and Robeson ended up being saved.
Philadelphia's 23 percent enrollment decline over the past decade is partly due to the explosive growth of publicly financed charter schools, which critics say drain resources from their district-operated counterparts without offering a markedly better education. Charters serve about 55,000 students in the city, up from 20,000 a decade ago.
Officials maintain that the consolidations, which would affect about 14,000 students, have been carefully studied for months. They also contend they've responded to community feedback by revising the closure list from 37 buildings to 29. Two of the 29 schools were new additions to the list; commissioners will vote on those closings later.
The closures are to take effect after classes end in June. An unspecified number of layoffs is expected, including principals, building engineers and maintenance workers, said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.
No teacher layoffs are anticipated because the overall student population of 149,000 should remain the same, he said. Jordan, the teachers' union president, remained skeptical of that claim.
Critics also have questioned whether closures simply create a new set of problems. A recent study indicates that urban districts often have trouble unloading shuttered schools because of poor real estate markets, undesirable locations and bad building conditions, among other reasons.
school, children, philadelphia, local/state
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