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In early December, the Philadelphia school district announced its proposal to close 37 public schools by June — a proposal that has left tens of thousands of K-12 students in disbelief concerning what will happen next for their education.
With a $1.1 billion cumulative budget deficit over the next five years, superintendent William Hite Jr. said that the announcement to close and consolidate around 15 percent of the district’s public schools is a “painful” and “emotional” decision for the board, according to the New York Times. But Hite has emphasized that these school closures come at a year when the district has experienced a $419 million education state cuts, the end of federal stimulus funding and the increase of pension costs.
“We are about to embark on a very difficult process,” said Superintendent William Hite Jr. at press conference in early December. “As an educator and as a parent, I realize that the recommendations will be shocking, painful, emotional and disruptive for many communities, not least our students, our families and our staffs.”
But Hite has reassured that though the proposal may at first seem shocking and drastic, it is a necessary step to get the Philadelphia school district back on its feet in the long run. He argues that many of the school buildings are underused with almost 27 percent of the nearly 200,000 seats standing empty. The district plans on selling the buildings, transferring students to the remaining schools and converting middle schools into high schools and vice versa.
A source tells NBC10 that the closures are expected to save as much as $28 million for the district.
“We run the risk of talking about a district that is no longer financially able to operate,” Hite said. “”If we don’t take these actions now, we actually have no money to spend.”
Philadelphia governor Michael Nutter says that he gives his Hite his “full and unequivocal support” for the plan, saying it will hopefully result in safer and better-equipped schools, and will encourage families to stay in the school district.
Some of the schools on the list of closures include an all African-American school, Germantown High School, that has had a dismal improvement in scores within the last few years, with only one in five students meeting the state requirements for reading, and only one in six students reaching the standards for math.
In addition, Andrea Vare Elementary, another school that has seen improving test scores, will also be closing — the student body is 33 percent black according to Parents United. In total, 22 elementary, four middle and 11 high schools are listed under those set to close or consolidate by the June deadline.
“That shows that they really don’t care about our children in low poverty neighborhood.” said parent, Dawn Hawkins, to 6 ABC Action News, 11 of the schools set to close in June are located in North Central Philadelphia, an area known for being low-income and predominantly populated by minorities.
Although the district has support from the Philadelphia governor, parents and community leaders alike have rallied together to protest the changes. The Thursday following the announcement of the closures, hundreds of people, with signs and booming voices, rallied outside the Philadelphia school district building voicing their opposition to the proposals.
A statement released by the Parents United for Public Education reads, “National studies have shown that Districts do not improve academically or financially through mass school closings. Community groups nationwide have formally complained that mass school closings have had disparate racial impact… Instead, the school closings process has been dishonest and disrespectful to the broader Philadelphia community and especially parents, students and families who have been blindsided by the pending announcement.”
Other community groups are also taking action in different ways. The ACTION United a group, a part of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, has studied the impacts of these school closures and is advocating to impose a moratorium on the school closings because the closures would disproportionately affect poor and minority students. The group is has encouraged students across the district to band together and write letters to Mayor Nutter.
“Please, Mayor Nutter, think of us as your own children,” wrote 12-year-old Khyrie Brown, a seventh grader at L.P. Hill in Strawberry Mansion, in a letter to Nutter. “Don’t forget, we all have dreams.”
The proposed cuts are scheduled to be voted on by the state organization the School Reform Commission this upcoming March.
Follow Brittany Tom on Twitter @brittanyrtom