Closing Philly Schools, But Opening a New Prison?

Mayor Michael Nutter said that the decision to scale back in the nation’s 10th-largest school district was a sensible financial move.

Posted: 06/13/2013 02:08 PM EDT

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has strongly defended the city’s decision to close two dozen schools and lay off almost 4,000 employees.

“These are some pretty tough economic times,” Nutter said, speaking on MSNBC. He added that the school superintendent and the state’s school commission “only budgeted the dollars they know that we’re going to have.”

The closing of such a large number of schools has been highly controversial in Philadelphia, whose school officials are seeking to dramatically reduce the operating costs of the nation’s 10th-largest school district. He added that Gov. Tom Corbett and state officials took “the right steps in honest budgeting,” after the Republican-controlled House of Representatives initiated a 12 percent cut in the education budget.

The state’s position has received intense criticism since it comes at a time that Pennsylvania is spending $400 million on a new prison complex. The penitentiary plan is made up of two facilities which will supplement two jails: the Western Penitentiary at Pittsburgh and the Fayette County Jail. 

The school district says closing the schools will improve academic success by moving funds to hire teachers and upgrade classroom equipment rather than spending money on decaying old buildings.

The proposal to close the schools in the state’s largest city was championed by the school district’s superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., who was selected for the job a year ago.

Hite has long contended that the school system would fare far better if the district would sell older buildings and transfer students into the newer facilities. Under this plan approved by the commission, some middle schools would become elementary schools and thousands of students would be forced to attend schools in different buildings and in some cases other neighborhoods.

Mayor Nutter said that the Philadelphia schools would not be harmed by the school closures because of the increase in the number of charter schools. He said that he didn’t accept the criticism by some that the charter schools were not accountable to any educational body.

“My job is to make sure we have a system of great schools all across the city of Philadelphia,” Nutter said. He added, “Officials are providing the proper funding for a high-quality education regardless of what school a parent decides to send their child to.”

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(Photo: Kris Connor/Getty Images)

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