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SRC approves building sales, ratifies principals' contract

  • university city complex
    Photo: School District of Philadelphia

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The School Reform Commission approved the sales of six vacant properties Thursday night, most of them schools that were closed within the last two years.

It also ratified a contract with the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, which represents principals and assistant principals, who will reduce their work year and see lower salaries. 

The properties will be sold for a total of $37 million under the current agreements, but the District will net $25.8 million after closing costs and other costs are taken out, said Fran Burns, the District's operations manager.

The cash-strapped District is counting on netting $61 million from property sales this year, although the city has promised to make up any difference if it doesn't reach that goal.

The biggest parcel approved for sale is the former University City High School and the adjacent Charles Drew Elementary and the Walnut Center, just north of Market Street between 36th and 37th streets. The complex would be sold to Drexel University City Development for $25.1 million.

Two properties will be sold to charter schools: the former Anna Shaw Middle School to Mastery Charter Schools for $2.7 million and the former Stephen Douglas High to Maritime Academy Charter for $2.1 million.

For another closed school, Harrison Elementary, the SRC authorized a $1.4 million agreement of sale with Independence Mission Schools, the foundation that is operating Catholic schools in inner city neighborhoods. Harrison is near the mission school at St. Malachy's parish in North Philadelphia.

Metal Ventures Inc. won approval to buy Childs Elementary School in South Philadelphia for $1.18 million and Orens Brothers was the high bidder, at $4.6 million, for Alexander Wilson in Southwest Philadelphia. 

Two speakers at the meeting criticized the District's handling of the University City sale: Michael Jones of the Powelton Village Civic Association and DeWayne Drummond of the Mantua Civic Association.

Jones said that he found the process "unfathomable" because it included "no input from neighbors," although he was happy that Drexel is buying the property. The university intends to expand Powel Elementary School and include a middle school that adopts the educational model of the successful Science Leadership Academy.

"I'm grateful Drexel ... emerged as the high bidder, but it should not have been an accident," he said.

Drummond said that the Mantua neighborhood was never consulted and lamented the closure of University City High. 

"At no time did the School District invite real conversation from the community," he said. And he said that the District has not tracked where the University City students ended up. "How many are failing, dropped out, incarcerated? ... Does the SRC know?" 

Commissioner Farah Jimenez, who is president of the People's Emergency Center in the same neighborhood, abstained on the vote because her organization will be intimately involved with what happens at the site. She also abstained on two other resolutions involving Mastery because her husband's law firm has represented the organization.

The unanimous vote to approve the principals' contract took place without comment. Principals will become 10-month instead of 12-month employees, cutting their net earnings by about 11 percent, and will start paying toward their health benefits.

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.