SRC considers consultant report; more school closings to come

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Last fall, the District was weighing a consultant report that recommended closing 26 schools.

Now, the SRC is weighing another report that recommends closing about twice that many schools by the next school year.

Last spring, after a months-long process, the School Reform Commis­sion voted to close just eight. Now, facing huge funding shortfalls and com­mitted to continued charter growth, the District says it must be more aggressive this time and close 29 to 57 schools – possibly as many as 50 of them this year.

The variation in the target number depends on decisions including wheth­er to target smaller elementary schools or large high schools, whether to stan­dardize grade spans, and whether the SRC should use a districtwide building utilization target of 85 or 95 percent.

The utilization rate is a comparison of each building’s student population compared to its capacity. The District’s current utilization rate is 72 percent, according to the Boston Consulting Group report – 59 percent for high schools and 79 percent for K-8.

BCG recommended the District aim for 90 percent utilization “in the initial year of the plan to reduce the need to conduct ongoing right-sizing in later years. We project that to achieve this target the District would need to close approximately 40 to 50 schools in the initial round,” depending on the mix and size of schools chosen.

The first step in the process is a series of meetings between late Sep­tember and mid-October to “illustrate the types of right-sizing strategies” and get community feedback, according to District spokesman Fernando Gallard. Information about specific schools will not be provided.

Instead, participants will be polled and invited to present “alternate strate­gies,” Gallard said.

Schools designated for closure will be identified by late November, Gallard said. Then, a round of state-mandated public hearings will be conducted. Final decisions are expected by next March.

Advocacy groups have begun mo­bilizing. Members of Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union traveled to Washington, D.C. with students from other cities on Sept. 20 to protest federal policies, and de­mand a moratorium on school closings and mandates to “turn around” low-per­forming schools.

They cited statistics showing that school closings disproportionately im­pact communities of color and do not improve test scores or graduation rates.