SRC votes to close 8 Phila. schools

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Education officials in Philadelphia will close eight public schools in a bid to become more efficient and compensate for major enrollment declines.

Emotions ran high at Thursday night's public meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

The eight schools approved for closure recommended in the District's Facilities Master Plan include:
Harrison Elementary School
George Pepper Middle School
Fitzsimons High School
Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology
Rhodes High School
Sheridan West Academy
Charles R. Drew Elementary School and William Levering Elementary School
Also approved was the relocation of the AMY Northwest program.

However, the School Reform Commission also voted to spare two elementary schools that had been on the chopping block.

Some parents, students and teachers left the meeting happy and others not so much.

It was a celebration supporters of Stanton Elementary were not expecting. But they had fought long and hard to convince the School Reform Commission to keep their school open, and in the end, the commission agreed, much to their joyful surprise.

"We wanted to just jump up and scream," said Susan Kettell. "It's just a great moment for us, because the thing is, it is a great school."

District officials proposed the closures last fall in a bid save money on an aging infrastructure. Many community members appealed the plan at a day-long hearing earlier this month.

The School Reform Commission projected a $186.9 million dollar budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, and has been struggling to downsize its facilities that are under- utilized and too expensive to maintain.

"We have more infrastructure in the district then is needed at this point, and that the cost of maintaining that infrastructure puts a real cost on the classroom," said Pedro Ramos, SRC Chairman.

There were 10 schools on the list, but today only 8 including 3 elementary, one middle school and 4 high schools were closed; among them, William Levering Elementary, much to the dismay of parents.

"And I am sitting here begging, begging for my child to stay in the school, and I would find anyway. I just don't understand," said Julie Anna Melnick.

On Thursday, the commission cited grassroots support and student achievement as reasons for keeping open E.M. Stanton and Sheppard Elementary Schools.

The school's principal, James Otto had this say following the vote.

"As soon as I changed the batteries in my pacemaker; I am extremely relieved," said James Otto.

The state's largest district has lost about 52,000 students over the past decade, due partly to changing demographics and an increase in charter schools. It now serves about 146,000 students.

Commissioners stressed that the work is not done, and that strategies to right size, address building condition, and improve utilization to best serve students must still be addressed.

"Tonight's vote reflects those priorities. The decision to close a school is never an easy one, but we are doing what we need to do to improve the opportunities available to our students while working within our means," Ramos said.

The District says that in the coming days, they will begin to communicate with those in the schools that are closing as to what schools they will be going to instead, as well as other logistics involved to make a smooth transition.

For more informatin visit the District's website located at http://www.philasd.org/.

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