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No school closings this year, says Superintendent Hite

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After losing two dozen schools last year -- on top of six in 2012 -- the School District of Philadelphia won't be seeing any closings in 2014. 

Superintendent William Hite announced Friday afternoon that the District would not be proposing any school closures this year.  

Emphasizing the need to "bolster" neighborhood schools, Hite said that, this year, the decision was not driven mostly by financial reasons. The District's coping with a $304 million funding shortfall was the prime factor in making school closing decisions before. 

"Everything we do is financial," said Hite.  But "this decision is more making sure that whenever we move students, we're providing a better option for those students, especially academics."

Unable to guarantee that students of closed schools would move to schools with better academic performance, the District could not justify more closings this year, said Hite. 

In 2012, the District recommended 37 schools for closure. Hite acknowledged that a main factor in recommending school closures had been low rates of utilization, which is a building's enrollment as a percentage of the building's capacity. With way more seats than students, the District is unable to efficiently spend its money.

The priority now is getting students into better academic environments and making sure that students who have come from shuttered schools do not end up in worse ones, said Hite.

"If we base decisions only on utilization ... then parents are more likely to move out of the area or pull their children out of those schools," said Hite. "Part of the work we're trying to do in improving all District schools is that we spend 80 to 90 percent of our time on making schools better."

Hite couldn't say with certainty whether more schools would be closed after 2014.

UpdateThe District released the utilization rates for both the current year and last year - the percentage of available seats in District schools that are occupied. The District has said since 2011 that a utilization rate of 85 percent is a goal. 

Utilization rates
  2012-2013 2013-2014
Elementary school 77% 81%
Middle school 46% 59%
High school 58% 65%
Overall 67% 74%

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David Limm

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David is a former online editor of the Notebook.