Facing a worsening budget crisis, Philadelphia School District officials announced Tuesday a sweeping plan that would dramatically reshape the face of education in the city.
The district’s budget hole for next year has grown to $218 million. Left unaddressed, say officials, the shortfall would grow to $1.1 billion over five years.
School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos says it’s time for urgent action.
“What we do know, through lots of history and evidence and practice, is that the current structure doesn’t work. We know that what we have now doesn’t produce safe, high-quality schools and it isn’t fiscally sustainable,” Ramos said.
As part of a radical new plan, the district would close one-fourth of its 250-plus school buildings, including 40 schools next year alone. Those schools that are left could be reorganized into newly created “achievement networks.”
To balance the books, Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen says the district has no choice but to go back to teachers and other employees for more concessions.
“We cannot effect this plan without turning to employees and asking for more in terms of either restructured benefits or restructured wage costs,” Knudsen said.
Teachers’ union president Jerry Jordan blasted the plan as a “cynical, right-wing plan to privatize public education.”
But Mayor Michael Nutter says the district’s problems won’t go away on their own.
“If we don’t take significant action, the system will collapse. If you care about kids, you care about education, you care about the future of this city, that’s what we need to all grow up and deal with,” Nutter said.
A public hearing on the proposed budget and reorganization plan is scheduled for May 1.