Struggling Philly district could close 40 schools

April 24, 2012 8:45:05 PM PDT
The Philadelphia school district could close more than 40 schools and eliminate hundreds of central office jobs in the next couple of years.

"What we do know through lots of history and evidence and practice is that the current structure doesn't work," Pedro Ramos of the School Reform Commission said.

To make it work, the district plans to break it up.

It starts with downsizing district headquarters and decentralizing operations.

The schools will be divided into eight separate and independent corporations of about 20 to 30 schools each.

Those corporations will be independent of each other and will have contracts with the school district.

They will be run at the local level with more autonomy for principals and teachers.

"This is a way for these school teachers and principals to have an experience within a manageable community," Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen said.

And it will be a smaller community.

The district is proposing to cut costs by closing 64 schools over the next five years, 40 of them immediately.

It will also turn more schools over to charters.

The district now acknowledges that decades of one failed administration after another have left the city with dangerous and underperforming schools, as well as, a huge budget deficit that, on the current course, will climb to $1.1-billion over the next five years.

The plan is a radical restructuring aimed at a balanced budget by 2014.

But, that budget depends on a new property tax structure that's now before City Council.

Mayor Michael Nutter says the time to act is now, or face dire consequences.

"The district has a $1.1-billion, 5-year plan deficit, you cannot escape that, you can't kick that can down the road, and if we don't take significant action, the system will collapse," Nutter said.

Already the plan has ruffled feathers. The teachers union calls it a "cynical, right-wing, market driven plan to privatize public education."

Everyone who wants to will have a say at a series of public hearings over the months ahead.

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The AP contributed to this report.


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