Facing deep fiscal troubles, the Philadelphia School District has proposed a plan under which it would close nearly one-sixth of its schools, shutting nearly 40 buildings by June.
Officials of the district, the 10th-largest in the United States with an enrollment that is roughly two-thirds African-American, say the move will enable it to improve academic success by moving funds to hire teachers and upgrade classroom equipment rather than spending money on decaying old buildings.
The proposal is championed by the school district’s superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., who was selected for the job in June.
Hite has 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 approach, 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.
The plan will affect roughly 17,000 students and more than 1,100 teachers. The buildings that are slated to be closed were selected after a review of their physical condition as well as the academic record of the school.
“We run the risk of talking about a district that is no longer financially able to operate,” Hite said, speaking to a raucous meeting of nearly 500 parents, teachers and students at a school in the Germantown section of the city.
Despite the district’s ability to borrow funds to operate during the current academic year, Hite told the gathering, “We will no longer have the ability to borrow that kind of money going forward.”
There has been some criticism about the plan from parents and teachers, who complained that it would result in many students being forced to attend classes outside of their neighborhoods.
“You put different people, different neighborhoods in one school, you’ll have turf wars,” said Orlando Acosta, a community activist. “Community, that’s the key.”
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(Photo: REUTERS/Tim Shaffer/Microsoft/Handout)