This is a sad time for those of us concerned about public education. Schools are closing across the nation, class sizes are increasing as more and more teachers get laid off, budgets are being slashed, and now the Philadelphia School District has announced its possible dissolution.
Huge Deficits And Declining Enrollment
What’s going on?
Pennsylvania’s largest school district has recently been dealing with huge deficits and declining enrollment. Now it is facing a possible $218 million shortfall for the upcoming 2012-13 school year that, if left unaddressed, could grow to a $1.1 billion over the next five years. So some radical change is needed.
“A Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia Public Schools,” released on April 24, is a sweeping reorganization proposal that includes more than half a billion dollars in budget cuts by 2017. Under the five year plan, 40 underutilized or under-performing schools would be closed next year. Six more schools would be closed each year after that until 2017, bringing the total number of closed schools to 64.
The plan would also divvy up those schools that remain among “achievement networks” led by teams of educators or nonprofit institutions. These achievement networks would have 20 to 30 schools each and be connected by either geography or a common, creative approach to teaching and learning. The leaders of the network, which could include successful principals, would have contracts based on performance and be required to serve students of all abilities and situations equitably, reports thenotebook.org.
In a further cost-cutting measure, decentralization would also result in the staff at school headquarters to be reduced from 600 to 250. Operating expenses would be cut by $122 million. $156 million would be cut in wages and benefits. There would also be a 7% reduction per child in charter schools which would be frozen at that number for three years.
$1.5 Million Tab For Outside Group To Come Up With Plan
Where did the plan come from? It turns out that the William Penn Foundation paid $1.5 million tab for the five-week contract for an outside management consultant, the Boston Consulting Group, to help the School Reform Council and District leadership come up with a plan. Really? $1.5 million for five weeks? Couldn’t that money have been better spent?
As a teacher, I have to ask: why not go to the teachers and the students for input? Why does education keep turning away from the experts in search of answers? I am not personally familiar with the Philadelphia school system, but I do know that the habit of turning to outside business leaders for education is becoming depressingly familiar.
Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen says the plan is designed to ensure the struggling district has safe, high-quality schools and is financially stable.
From NBC Philadelphia:
“With so many children moving into the charters it has left many of our schools underutilized,” said Knudsen. “There are fewer people for which the buildings are designed. We can no longer support that structure.”
Knudsen says closing buildings and streamlining the central office will make the district more efficient. The proposal still must be approved by the School Reform Commission. Several public hearings will take place beginning in May.
Opposition To The Plan
This is obviously an extremely complicated situation, which merits a great deal of careful thought. How are people reacting to the proposal?
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry T. Jordan released the following statement regarding the plan:
This restructuring plan has nothing to do with raising student achievement. The district provided a business model, not a research-based plan for turning around or supporting schools.
By closing 64 schools and transferring more and more children out of publicly accountable, neighborhood schools and into charter, cyber-charter and private schools, the School District of Philadelphia is saying it is no longer wants to be in the business of educating children. It would rather manage a ‘portfolio’ than do the hard work my members do every day educating children.
This is a cynical, right-wing and market-driven plan to privatize public education, to force thousands of economically disadvantaged families to select from an under-funded hodge-podge of EMO- and charter-company-run schools and to convert thousands of professional and family-sustaining positions into low-paying, high-turnover jobs.
I find it ironic that the district chose Election Day to announce it is dismantling our public school system, which is the foundation of our democracy. Every person who cares about democracy and about educating economically disadvantaged children, children of color, immigrant children and children with special needs should stand up to the SRC and tell them our children and our schools aren’t for sale.
Everyone will have a chance to weigh in beginning next Tuesday, May 1, when there will be the first in a series of ublic hearings on the proposal. Stay tuned for more developments.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: Vincent J. Brown