Residents are invited to weigh in this Saturday on the School District of Philadelphia’s cost-cutting measures that will likely include dozens of school closures.
The School Reform Commission meeting on the District’s Facilities Master Plan at West Philadelphia High School (4901 Chestnut St.) will run from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Residents will hear about the District’s plan to shutter up to 60 schools over the next few years to close a budget gap that could balloon to more than $1 billion.
Enrollment in the District has dropped 21 percent since 2003, leaving classrooms at many schools far below capacity. Enrollment in charter schools increased dramatically during that time span, taking students out of District-run facilities. In a report released last month, the Boston Consulting Group estimated that the District could close 40 to 50 schools by next year and another 15 or 20 over the next five years. District officials estimate that the closures could save as much as $35 million a year. The SRC is expected to announce next month which schools could be closed next year.
Closure decisions will be based on the condition of the school, its current capacity and the academic performance of its students.
Proposed closures will likely have a profound impact on schools in West Philly. Last year Drew Elementary near 38th and Powelton closed and its students were spread among other West Philly schools. The grade configuration at Alexander Wilson School, which the District has deemed is under-enrolled, will change from K-6 to K-5. The closure and changes have placed more pressure on other schools, including the Henry C. Lea (4700 Locust St.), Alaine Locke (4550 Haverford Ave.) and Samuel Powel (301 N. 36th St.) Schools. Enrollment issues are also a prime concern at Penn Alexander School (4209 Spruce St.).
But Saturday’s meeting is about more than just school closures. The District is also looking for resident input on a host of issues that will arise when schools start closing. Those range from getting rid of middle schools and making K-8 the only option to changing the way students are assigned to elementary schools. To record resident input at past meetings, the SRC has distributed devices that attendees click in response to a variety of questions.
For example, one question is:
“On a scale of 1 to 9, how important is it for 3rd graders to be able to walk to school?
Meeting participants can respond by pushing the appropriate button on the device. Click here for the full list of questions. Benjamin Herold from The Notebook and WHYY’s NewsWorks has a great story on the meetings earlier this week here.