Councilman Jones: Proposed Philadelphia school closures are ill-timed and ill-conceived

Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. has spoken out against the proposed Philadelphia public school closures.

In a recent statement that expands upon a City Council vote taken last week in support of a school-closing moratorium, the Fourth District Councilman stated that after months of deliberation, he decided that planned school closures in the Philadelphia School District by June of 2013 are “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived.”

In response, he co-sponsored the moratorium with Councilwoman Janie Blackwell to suspend closings and consolidations so that “actionable plans addressing the safety for our children” and “realistic cost savings and expenditures” can be decided with the participation of Fourth District constituents.

While stating that the school district’s finances and educational outcomes will need to be addressed in substantive fashion in the future, Jones said that better alternatives can be reached by advocating for additional time.

“So today I say, push the pause button on this plan,” said Jones. “If we build it right, they shall come.”

Pairing concerns with recommendations

According to Jones, this decision was not reached lightly. Rather, it came after several community meetings with Fourth District constituents affected by the closure and consolidation plan, the majority of whom reside in the western end of Jones’ district.

He also met with PSD Superintendent William Hite on several occasions; in the most recent, Jones said he raised “specific concerns” with Hite, and provided recommendations to address them.

According to the statement, they included ensuring the safety of younger children attending school with older students as a result of reconfiguration, addressing increased travel time and distances for school students, and providing a “clearer picture” of the cost savings garnered by the plans, and their application of these resources to schools that are surviving the closure.

“To date,” said Jones, “I have NOT [sic] received any feedback on these concerns, which are, for the most part, derived from the outcry of parents, students, teachers, and administrators from the school the SRC has closing or consolidated in my district.”

While school district spokespersons were not immediately available to respond, Jones was adamant that his decision was reached after a lengthy period of consideration.

“I never make a whole decision [based on] half information,” he said, a declaration which has found favor with school advocacy groups.

Calling for collaboration 

“The Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools is encouraged that City Councilman Jones, Councilwoman Blackwell, the overwhelming majority of their colleagues, and dozens of organizations throughout the City have endorsed the call for a moratorium on school closures,” said John McDonald of PCAPS.

“It is unfortunate that Superintendent Hite and the School District continue to insist upon taking the drastic and unprecedented step of closing more than three dozen schools – most of which are in already challenged neighborhoods – despite the growing support for a moratorium,” McDonald added.

Instead, PCAPS is recommending a comprehensive community impact study of the effect of the closures, and is urging the PSD to collaborate on a plan that would convert local schools into community hubs in partnership with nonprofits, public officials, universities, hospitals and the business community.

According to McDonald, this model – based upon one already in place in Cincinnati – has resulted in that city’s becoming the best-performing urban district in Ohio.

“We can do the same here,” he said.

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