As Philadelphia City Council got back to work for the first time in 2013, one of its first actions was approval of a nonbinding resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on public school closings in the city.
The financially struggling Philadelphia School District plans to close 37 schools in the fall. City Council approved the nonbinding resolution by a 14-to-2 vote, saying the district should wait a year before closing any schools.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who wrote the bill, she says council needs to have a say in the closings.
“We want the opportunity to have inclusion in the discussion about which schools close and to make sure that all the issues that involve the transportation issues, the turf issues that could get some kids killed,” Blackwell said. “We want a chance to have those kind of discussions before they close schools.”
Anne Gemmell, political director of umbrella advocacy group “Fight for Philly,” weighed in from a parent’s point of view, saying the closings are unacceptable.
“We don’t believe for a second that it is fair all these communities, all these vulnerable communities, will be plunged into chaos for less than 1 percent savings,” she said. “That is absurd.”
Councilman Curtis Jones is afraid the closings will set back some students.
“The reality is, if an urban young man does not read up to standard by the time they are in fourth grade, we know how many prison cells to build by the time they are 18,” he said.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez says the district wouldn’t be resorting to this if it weren’t in such dire financial shape.
“We cannot act like Congress and say that we are going to kick the bucket and not deal with our fiscal cliff,” she said, adding that school superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission “have to respond to every single issue and legitimate question that our parents have put forth for them.”
Councilman Bill Green, who voted against the moratorium, said a yearlong delay would be too costly for the district.
“We are forgetting the fact there are 70,000 empty seats in the Philadelphia public schools,” he said. “To create a moratorium for another year will cost the school district $25 million that they do not have and we have not provided.”
School district officials have not commented on the resolution. City Council will hold hearings on the closings next month.