Philadelphia votes to close 23 schools after protests, arrests

Posted By Kristen Butler,  |  March 8, 2013 at 10:02 AM
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The decision was made after police arrested 19 protesters, including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, charging them with disorderly conduct. Over 500 protesters blocked Broad Street in front of the School District of Philadelphia Headquarters.

After three hours of debate the state-run School Reform Commission voted to shutter 23 out of 27 schools up for closure. Commission chairman Pedro Ramos said the closings were “excruciating, difficult and emotional for all of us,” but that they helped to restore financial stability.

The closings were opposed by all but one of the 32 people who spoke at the meeting. “The process by which the Philadelphia School District decided on school closures was flawed and must be rejected,” said State Representative W. Curtis Thomas.

Last summer, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen pitched the 5-year closure plan to the SRC using terms like "portfolios," "modernization," "right-sizing," "entrepreneurialism" and "competition," reports Philadelphia's City Paper. The plan was prepared with the assistance of Boston Consulting Group, a major global business consultancy and school "right-sizing" mastermind. Boston Consulting Group got a $1.5 million contract paid by the William Penn Foundation to come up with the plan.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan at the time called it "a cynical, right-wing and market-driven plan to privatize public education." Following the SRC vote last night, Jordan said the decision "to close 24 neighborhood schools is a stark illustration of how out of touch the School Reform Commission is with the parents, students, educators and communities that depend on these institutions.”

In Philadelphia, the proportion of students attending charter schools jumped to 23 percent in the 2011-12 school year from 12 percent in 2004-5, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Meanwhile Pennsylvania cut Philadelphia’s financing by a further $419 million this year, and the federal government is providing incentives to close schools that do not measure up to national performance standards.

But some analysts have questioned the efficacy of programs to close schools. The Pew Charitable Trusts said in a 2011 study that no district has reaped a financial windfall from selling shuttered buildings, which are often in declining neighborhoods and hard to sell. Most gains come from payroll savings, but Philadelphia plans to transfer affected teachers, and only outsource custodial and other staff.

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