Public school closures could just be getting started

Is the recent batch of public school closures the first cycle of many to come?

Think back to the middle of last year. We expected dozens of schools to be considered for closure after PlanPhilly’s partners the Public School Notebook obtained a confidential document [pdf] that outlined different scenarios geared at shedding empty seats, closing aging buildings, and digging the District out of its deep financial hole. In November only 9 schools were considered for closure and consolidation.

The School District’s target was to clear 40,000 empty seats. But the recently announced batch of closures will take the District about a quarter of the way there. So are we entering a period where the city will have to go through a school closing/consolidation cycle annually?

In a recent Public School Notebook piece, Dale Mezzacappa looked ahead at the next steps in the School District’s Facilities Master Plan. Feather Houstoun, who sits on the School Reform Commission (SRC), told the Notebook she thinks the next few years will see more realignments and closures. Mezzacappa wrote: [Houstoun] reiterated that many more school closings are necessary, and the sooner the better.

“Facilities represent capital as well as operating costs, and they have to be in the equation if we are to achieve sustainable, quality educational offerings in safe, well-maintained buildings,” she said. “It will require a lot of staff work, community engagement, and analysis of alternative scenarios before we move into a new cycle. The speed is yet to be determined, but I don’t think we do schools – children, families and staff, or neighborhoods – much good with a process which leaves them with uncertainty for extended periods of time.” Some schools will simply need to move, others will be consolidated, and the Notebook estimates another 30 could be shuttered.

It’s possible that instead of “ripping off the Band-Aid” and shedding those 40,000 seats at once, the smaller batches of closures/consolidations coud enable more nuanced looks at individual schools. In the cases of Stanton and Sheppard that level of attention probably helped these schools remain open. That said, it’s going to be an exhausting and bumpy ride citywide.

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Click here for all of the joint coverage of the recent school closing process by PlanPhilly and the Public School Notebook.

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