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Mass school closings: Why the numbers don't add up


Like most of the public, I’ve been baffled by the District’s latest rationale for closing down an unprecedented number of schools in a single year. In observing the school hearings this week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou: “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”  

That statement couldn’t ring more true when looking at the District’s proposal to close down one in six Philadelphia schools, including wiping out 9 public schools in the 19121 and 19132 zip codes (plus Vaux will no longer be a high school). The plan will disrupt the lives of 17,000 children in the District – more than 10 percent of the population – for a questionable savings that amounts to barely 1 percent of the District budget.

Moreover, the District has failed to show any lessons it has learned from cities across the country that have closed down public schools with little impact on finances or student achievement.

The District comes to the table with a chosen set of facts: utilization, capacity, facilities condition index, and so on. Based on these numbers, the District argues, it is below optimal utilization. The District is shrinking. But is it?

It’s worth remembering that in the spring, the School Reform Commission authorized an unprecedented expansion of more than 5,000 charter seats at a projected cost of $139 million over five years – at a time when Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen threatened that schools may not even open in September. Among the expansions were a 1,400-student high school for Performing Arts Charter, even though the District already has four performing arts high schools drawing from a citywide population. Charters with school performance index figures that ranked them among the worst in the District received five-year renewals and expansions. In fact, of the 26 charters up for renewal last spring, the SRC voted to close just three, and two are appealing.

Whatever your opinion may be of charters, there’s no question that the District has failed  to explain its inconsistent approach of allowing charter expansion without regard to expense or academic quality while insisting on draconian and widespread sacrifice among District schools. This despite the fact that many of the District schools targeted for closure outperform some of the charters that the SRC renewed and expanded last spring.

The numbers don’t add up on the alleged $28 million in savings the District says it will garner. District officials have not disclosed a full accounting of the transition costs and other expenses associated with closing schools – something that should be of grave concern given what we know about school-closing expenses.

In Chicago, an internal document leaked to the press showed how school administrators there failed to inform the public of associated transition costs for closing and consolidating a proposed 95 public schools. Administrators had contended that the school closings would save between $140 million and $675 million over 10 years. However, the document showed that District officials estimated that they would lose a huge portion of those savings because of an “upfront cash investment” of anywhere between $155 million and a whopping $450 million in personnel, transportation and safety costs.

How can our District state that the proposed school closings will save enough money to make it worth the chaos when it hasn't publicly shown its calculations and accounting for all the expenses?

The sale of school buildings also has questionable value. A 2011 Pew study of six school districts nationwide found that most districts overestimate the amount of money they expect to gain from school sales. Many buildings stand idle for years and contribute to neighborhood blight. Indeed, the recent announced sales of three Philadelphia school buildings reaffirm that fact. The schools earned little more than 60 percent of market value. One of the schools sat on the market for a decade. Another school, Muhr Elementary, sold for $150,000, less than half its market value of $360,000.

Finally, the District has failed to demonstrate the most important factor in closing and consolidating schools – that we end up with a school system stronger and in better shape than the one we’re trying to repair. The numbers don’t lie on the academic impact of school closings nationwide. Numerous studies have shown school closings have little impact on student achievement. Over the last decade, Chicago has closed down nearly 100 public schools. According to a 2009 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, 82 percent of students simply moved from one underperforming school to another, including schools on academic probation.

According to researchers, one of the most significant factors in student achievement during a school-closings process is the quality of the receiving school. A recent Research for Action study showed that most of Philadelphia’s best schools are already at capacity and are unlikely to be able to take on more students. Moreover, we haven’t heard anything substantive from District officials about the concrete investments in the receiving schools on the list.  

Nowhere is this situation made more apparent than the students who were wrongly promised a better education when FitzSimons and Rhodes were closed last year. Just in June, the students were transferred to Strawberry Mansion High School, a school struggling with both climate and academics. District officials talked facts – utilization, expenses, enrollment – to justify the move. Parents and students talked truth: Where was the guarantee of a better educational opportunity?

Last week, the District named Strawberry Mansion to the list of new school closures and have proposed transferring students to Ben Franklin High, yet another struggling comprehensive high school. A portion of these students will therefore have attended three schools in three years through no fault of their own.

District officials have all the excuses, of course. Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said Strawberry Mansion is now at 25 percent capacity. But you had to wonder what investments were made to Strawberry Mansion to encourage any level of confidence among parents and families to retain them in the District. How confident are parents now that Ben Franklin will received renewed investments, especially when District officials avoid anything but lip service about that concern?

There are too many offenses to even count among the list of proposed school closings. Schools like Vare and George Washington elementaries – racially diverse and successful schools – make the list. So did McCloskey Elementary, which has steady enrollment, a stable staff, PSSA test scores above the District average, and a principal who’s a recent Lindenbaum Improvement in Education Award winner. Now the students will head to Edmonds, a school that’s nearly a mile away with no transportation entitlement.

Bok Technical High School, one of the few specialty high schools serving a sizeable immigrant student population, is shutting down while its program merges inexplicably with South Philadelphia High School. It doesn’t matter that the School Reform Commission earlier this year made a stated commitment to vocational and technical education. Only a District numbers-cruncher thinks that Germantown can merge with King, or that students from University City can waltz into Overbrook or Sayre without a problem.

And if you've got a kindergartner in the 19121 or 19132 zip codes, the District has all but pulled out of your neighborhood. Note: I don't consider the chance of winning a charter lottery to be a so-called viable option.

The District’s school-closings proposal is a stunning failure, not just of math but also of the vision of public education. The questionable assumptions about charter expansion and school closings are a central reason that Parents United for Public Education filed a complaint with the Board of Ethics this month about the controversial use of a consultant who was not employed by the School District yet who had unprecedented access to District leadership to lobby around issues like school closings and charter expansion. It’s no surprise to us that the donors who helped pay for the consultant, like the Philadelphia School Partnership, have been among the most vocal advocates for mass school closings as well as massive charter expansion.

It’s our hope that the School Reform Commission and the new leadership under Superintendent Hite will reconsider an approach that has failed to answer so many questions and concerns. The last thing this leadership needs is to associate the rhetoric around school closings to that of the comedian Stephen Colbert: “I can’t prove it but I can say it.”

 

 

Helen Gym is a co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, a Notebook board member and a regular contributor.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

 
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Comments (43)

Submitted by Leidy Teacher (not verified) on December 20, 2012 7:51 pm
Thank you so much for your piece. It doesn't make any sense to us either at Leidy School. Even though our school is in far better condition with far less violence than Blankenburg, they're closing us and not them. The only way that makes any sense is that our school has resale value and theirs does not. Who would buy us? Well, perhaps Global Leadership Charter, Discovery Charter or Belmont Charter would like a large annex. For us the only question is if the sale was already arranged before the announcement was made.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:12 pm
I wonder the same thing about my school- Was a sale of our building arranged before it made the official closing list? Some of the VERY costly recent improvements to our building make no sense. We need to start looking closely at who is interested in our buildings. I have a feeling that much of what we find won't pass the smell test.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 8:30 am
What's your school?
Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on December 20, 2012 9:45 pm
And unlike other so called "reforms," this one is destructive of a public good that the U.S. was the pioneer in establishing and it is irrevocable. Isn't this a violation of the state constitution to "provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of PUBLIC education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth (Sec.14)," and that "No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school (Sec. 15)." ??
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on December 20, 2012 10:38 pm
There is something about many of these recommendations that is very rotten. Why close successful, low SPI schools and send the kids to a worse school? Isn't that going against the SRC's and BCG's claim of wanting "high-performing seats" (God, I hate that term)? Half the crap they are recommending and they way they are "explaining" it at FMP and SRC meetings does NOT make any sense.
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 20, 2012 10:44 pm

I should add in my post above that I am not against school closings when they are done strategically. For example, the students at Furness and Bok clearly deserve a new school building.  What they don't need is the dissolution of their program and their being scattered to random schools because there's no plan to reinvest in a new building for them. I am deeply against mass school closings which leave complete chaos and little gain in their wake.

Submitted by www.commodealanger.org (not verified) on September 3, 2013 1:02 am
It's going to be ending of mine day, however before finish I am reading this wonderful post to increase my experience.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 21, 2012 6:04 am
Thank you for your commentary. I would like the SRC to honestly address why charters like World Communications Charter were given 5 year renewals despite their poor test scores, financial improprieties and nepotism while public schools with much better track records are slated for closure. The creation of a 1400 seat high school for the arts is a mockery while many public schools have no music program. We do not need a new high school when so many high schools are slated for closure. I would love to know how we can get an honest answer from SRC members, Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter, etc. The expansion of charters is draining the School District of funds that could improve programs and facilities in public schools. Since there is no financial rationale for expanding charters while closing public schools, are the motives political / ideological? Does the SRC, Shorr and Nutter (and their "Great Schools" cheerleaders) really believe the Gates/Broad/Walton hype that a public good should be run like a for profit business?
Submitted by Jay (not verified) on December 21, 2012 7:19 am
Awesome piece.
Submitted by Anne Gemmell (not verified) on December 21, 2012 9:03 am
The answer is obvious. They want to shed unionized workers. They are routing families to lower-performing schools in the hopes that a substantial number of those 17K kids will somehow choose a charter - who cares if that charter is corrupt or failing? It would be closer to home and filled with non-union staff at every level. So, after the dust settles, kids are scattered to charter, private or out of the city all together, Dr. Hite will say sometime in August or December that the district will need to "right-size" its staff. This is Wall St labor management tactics being practiced on our families. Shock doctrine all the way - create chaos so private entitities can "save" the day. Charter & private schools were proabably at the table when the closings were chosen - they needed to get their feeder pattersn right.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 21, 2012 12:15 pm
BINGO--Naomi Wolf 101 Create a problem just so you can 'fix" it YOUR WAY. Killing Unions and by extension livable wages, is the goal. IF WE accept this abuse, we deserve it.
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 21, 2012 9:00 am

Another addition for the record: Valerie Strauss of the Answer Sheet at the Washington Post, reposted this piece, and noted that in DC the closure of 23 public schools wound up costing the District $40 million.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/12/21/mass-school-closings-why-the-numbers-dont-add-up/

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on December 21, 2012 10:53 am
I read the comments above with such respect for all of you who have the wisdom, courage and fortitude to stand up for truth, our communities and public education itself -- and ultimately, the schoolchildren of Philadelphia. I have been saying for a long time that everyone needs to "think deeply" about what is happening here as it goes to the heart of democracy itself. Yes, there are serious constitutional issues emerging. It becomes more and more clear that the decisions concerning our public schools are being made by a "shadow government" which is operating behind closed doors, and our Sunshine Act is being circumvented over and over again. What is amazing to me is that this is happening in the birthplace of American democracy.
Submitted by garth (not verified) on December 21, 2012 3:15 pm
Excellent analysis as usual Helen. As a PSD parent, I'm glad you here in Philly to carefully analyze stuff that most people don't even notice and hopefully protect us from lots of bad decisions by the SRC. I really feel like the SRC right now has two agendas, the public one and the "behind close doors" agenda. The secret agenda is to close some public school buildings with potential, so that they can get them into the hands of charter operators at discounted prices. I really feel like the SRC should just freely admit that most of the closing schools are going to quickly re-open. Why go thru all the drama of school closing meetings when many of the schools will re-open as a charter school with some of the same students?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 22, 2012 5:39 am
Claiming that the buildings are being sold below market value makes no sense. If you run an open auction process (which the SRC seemed to do here) and the high bid is $160k, then that is the market value. In addition to raising cash immediate cash from sale, and eliminating maintenance expenses, the buildings will also start contributing to Philly's tax base if they are sold and redeveloped. From that perspective the benefits of closing to the district are actually understated.
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 22, 2012 2:42 pm

Fair enough, but I'd like to point out that your analysis isn't so simple either. For example, KIPP Philadelphia bought one of those schools well below the stated market value. KIPP as a non-profit will NOT pay property taxes, plus the students who move in will be an additional cost to the District a cost which has also likely been uncalculated. At the Dec. 20th meeting, one school was transferred to a for-profit entity for $1, even though it had a listed market rate of $250,000. 

The issue isn't about theoretics or what you THINK happens. It matters that the District projects a $250,000 sale and receives $1 instead. It matters that anticipated sales are  60%. The District has projected this as a budget issue not just a market transaction.

 

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 26, 2012 9:53 pm
The cost to remediate or tear down these buildings in order to have ANY commercial value can be more than what the market value is. Nobody wants those decrepit pieces of junk which is why they are so hard to sell. You are barking up the wrong tree on this one.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 4, 2013 10:16 am
You just confirmed part of the original argument: that closing these schools down to save money and/or gain revenue is a bunch of bull.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 22, 2012 1:19 pm
This is the kind of stuff the SRC does not want to hear. They are OK with parents and students expressing the heartbreak of losing their neighborhood schools; they can say we are really sorry but it's better this way. Hite keeps saying that these closings will lead to better programs in the schools that are left. Helen trashes that garbage here. Since Helen was not allowed to finish her statement the other night, how about we take turns reading sections of it at the next one? Break it up into three minute increments for each speaker. The last one can ask them to respond. I volunteer right now. Lisa Haver
Submitted by CJR (not verified) on December 22, 2012 5:09 pm
The $28M that Hite is projecting is a gross amount as I understand it. It doesn't take into account any number of expenses like security costs, maintenance costs, lost property values in the surrounding communities or any calculation for how many of the 17,000 students will simply leave the district which will result in less money from the state. Couple all of this with the recently reported COSTS of closing 23 schools in DC-$40M-makes it unlikely that closing schools actually saves any money. We need a moratorium for a year so we can have this discussion more fully, and also use that time to explore other options besides closing schools. Keeping the schools open and consolidating social and city services in those buildings is a popular idea that has had stellar results in a number of cities. Hite could be a hero if he and the SRC stop their radical shutdown plans and work with the community!
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on December 23, 2012 1:48 am
There is a need to close some schools, but 37 is ridiculous. I think one also needs to look at how they calculate utilization. Sometimes, it is beneficial to have 1 or 2 extra classrooms so that there is somewhere to take students for testing and small group activities. Obviously, having a a school that is half empty is a waste. But if utilization is such a concern to the District, FORCE the charter schools to share space with District schools. NYC does this. It would save money. If closing schools is so necessary, I also expect that there will not be any Renaissance schools this year, since charters cost the District money. A major part of the District's shortfall is due to pension costs. Tom Ridge raised the pension payouts. Yes, this benefits teachers, police officers, and the like, but also politicians and high-paid state workers. So the state needs to deal with pensions sensibly in order to resolve the fiscal crisis in the SDP. (See http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-phillydeals/PA-Senate-leaders-Kil...)
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 23, 2012 2:00 am

Great points and I love your commentary overall. I would just suggest that the reason for the shortfall has as much to do with revenue as it does with expenses: massive underfunding under Corbett, the lack of an enrollment-based funding formula, and local tax issues - huge numbers of delinquent properties as well as an enormous amount of giveaways (widespread rather than strategic tax abatements and tax free zones + a lack of PILOTs for tax-exempt operations). This revenue starvation has resulted in debilitating debt that is crippling the district for decades to come.

Under expenses, pensions are of course devastating, but so is the unfettered expansion of charters that has completely changed funding concentrations and projections for the District. I'd also suggest that there is a lot of confusion about how much the District spends on itself partly because we are both an IU and a School District. Pre-charter, this was not as much an issue, but these days the District is responsible for a host of expenses that have little to do with District-operated/managed schools. These are expenses we cannot control or have say over: busing, special ed, charters, etc.  Taking these expenses off our books and back onto an IU would go a long way toward clarifying just how costly the District is.

In terms of your NYC reference, the process of having charters share space with public schools - a term called co-location - has been extraordinarily controversial.  In some cases, charters have funds to renovate buildings. They use separate entrances. There have been serious examples of gross inequity and "separate and unequal" manifestations within the same school, where charter students who win a lottery enter through a separate entrance into a modernized, renovated school while public school students attend the decrepit half of the building.

The issue has been so controversial that Pedro Noguera in resigning from his role as head of the SUNY charter authorizing body specifically cited co-location as a problematic concern. Read his thoughtful post here: http://www.schoolbook.org/2012/02/06/why-i-resigned-from-the-suny-board-of-trustees/

I agree with you on the need to close some schools but that has to be linked to a plan and process that improves the educational experience of students. Strategic school closings that lead to new buildings or new educational opportunities, yes. Mass school closings to scatter children to schools that perform no better, no.

Submitted by Philly Teacher and Parent (not verified) on December 23, 2012 6:38 am
Regarding the pension: I'm not an expert but I've been in the District long enough to have some historical memory (20 years). The funding of PSERS (education pension fund in Pennsylvania) has changed since it was created in 1955. Initially, the Commonwealth of PA contributed but that ended in 1996. In 2003, the multiplier changed when the individual contribution was raised from about 6% to 7.5%. One problem is those who had been paying the lower rate were grandfathered in at the higher multiplier rate. In 2004, Vallas gave a "buy out" to district employees to encourage retirements. (I think it was $10,000 which could be used for health insurance; Vallas originally offered $20,000 but they District couldn't afford it). Those who retired in 2004 got a windfall - they received a much higher multiplier. (Ted Kirsch was one beneficiary. Anyone who retired within 10 year obviously benefits from the higher multiplier because for 20 - 25 years they paid a lower percentage.) Those of us who will spend most of our career paying the higher percentage are paying our fair share. The current crisis was caused by the Commonwealth; it did not make individual school districts pay at least the matching rate (7.5%). Now, schools districts have to make up for what they haven't paid for 10 years. For more information on rates - http://www.psers.state.pa.us/content/pfr/resources/PSERS%20Contribution%...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 25, 2012 9:55 am
Exactly right but to hear Corbett et al tell it, the unions are to blame for everything. The narrative they spew goes unchallenged and my question is why? It's all a lie. ALL of this is an attack on Worker's Rights and it's nationwide not just here. WE better set the record straight but the PFT stays silent.
Submitted by Philly Teacher and Parent (not verified) on December 23, 2012 7:25 am
I do not think cohabitation for charters and District schools is a healthy model. (I also read Helen's review of NYC's experience.) I think there is the option of cohabitation of District schools. Apparently, Lankenau will share space with Roxborough. Kensington Urban Ed and Kensginton Business share a building. Doesn't MYA and Parkway West share a building? I'd propose that other schools share space/ programs (e.g. gym, cafeteria, auditorium, some courses, sports ) if there is a way to ensure that both schools have access to a structurally sound and well resources/renovated building. For example, why not have Furness and Academy at Palumbo share a building? Academy at Palumbo received $25 million in renovations. Both schools are in the same catchment. This way, the schools could also have some joint classes (e.g. AP courses, music program, etc.) Palumbo and Furness already share some athletic teams (football, girls soccer, girls basketball, etc.) Why not combine Bodine and Constitution in the same building? (Neither current location is big enough). They share athletic teams, the themes are compatible, etc. Why not have SLA move to Ben Franklin or University City? (SLA is going to be with Powell for middle school - Drew is in Univ. City's backyard.) I am sure someone else can come up with viable options for cohabitation of District schools. Remember, Northeast and Washington High Schools kept their internal magnet programs after Vallas nearly doubled the number of high schools by creating many small (mostly special admit) high schools. These programs were taken out of other neighborhood high schools. By sharing a building, the special admit schools keep their admission requirements (just like Northeast) but the students at least get to "co-learn" in music, AP course, sports, etc.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 23, 2012 8:04 am
Performing Arts programs are the most sought after in the entire district. There are over 5,000 applicants for a few seats in 9th grade (as told to me by someone in the district after I complained about my kid not getting in). CAPA won't even look at students who aren't in the 90% percentile and GAMP is 5th-12th so good luck finding a spot in 9th grade. ...AND THEY ARE ALL CRITERIA BASED!! If that's what parents want, they should open 4 more!!!
Submitted by Philly Teacher and Parent (not verified) on December 23, 2012 8:57 am
Then open them in School District schools that are under enrolled.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on December 23, 2012 9:42 am
South Philly is over saturated with high schools - especially charters. Move a performing arts school to Olney where there is none. (Kensington has a performing arts school.) Then, put an arts program in Southern. It can have admission criteria just like Performing Arts Charter. (Just look at Performing Arts demographics - it does not serve all of South Philly.)
Submitted by JUDITH ROBINSON (not verified) on December 23, 2012 2:59 pm
Each speaker get the three minutes!.. Time yourself Helen. Stop the nonsense.. It,s all about the $$$, when times are tight grab $$$ from whereever! Education/childrenfor sale!African American ,are real clear, LAWS WERE PASSED TO PREVENT US FROM READINGS,ETC. So this is a continuation of what we have had to endure in AMERICA and still WE Rise ... MEETING ON THIS ISSUE: On Thursday Dec.27,2012, Cornerstone Baptist Church 2117 N 33rd St. Philly(19121) For info.215-765-9500 PREPARING FOR JAN 8,2013 @Dobbins JAN,17,2013@SRC
Submitted by Joe. (not verified) on December 25, 2012 9:14 am
Judith--You are speaking truth to power. The playing field has always been uneven as you point out. Trouble is, this "reform" will only make it worse and is designed by the shot callers to do exactly that. The goal is to make the crooked pols and their charter owner buddies richer at the direct expense of the poor, all while claiming the high ground. Blaming unions and employing divide and conquer strategies, will lessen the hopes and livable wages of millions of people and make the poor, hopelessly poor. As you said, it's all about money and has nothing to do with kids, especially inner city kids who will systematically be doomed to menial labor or prison. It is no coincidence that Corbett is building 3 new prisons in Northwest PA. The Big Money shot callers have lots of these politicians in their pocket and WE elected them nationwide in 2010. By the way, Obama has NOT been helpful either except when he pandered to us around the election. In short, if we accept this new abuse, we deserve it. P.S. Money is not tight in any traditional way, Wall Street is richer than EVER. It's only tight for the poor.
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on December 26, 2012 7:48 am
I do not think cohabitation for charters and District schools is a healthy model. (I also read Helen's review of NYC's experience.) I think there is the option of cohabitation of District schools. Apparently, Lankenau will share space with Roxborough. Kensington Urban Ed and Kensginton Business share a building. Doesn't MYA and Parkway West share a building? I'd propose that other schools share space/ programs (e.g. gym, cafeteria, auditorium, some courses, sports ) if there is a way to ensure that both schools have access to a structurally sound and well resources/renovated building. For example, why not have Furness and Academy at Palumbo share a building? Academy at Palumbo received $25 million in renovations. Both schools are in the same catchment. This way, the schools could also have some joint classes (e.g. AP courses, music program, etc.) Palumbo and Furness already share some athletic teams (football, girls soccer, girls basketball, etc.) Why not combine Bodine and Constitution in the same building? (Neither current location is big enough). They share athletic teams, the themes are compatible, etc. Why not have SLA move to Ben Franklin or University City? (SLA is going to be with Powell for middle school - Drew is in Univ. City's backyard.) I am sure someone else can come up with viable options for cohabitation of District schools. Remember, Northeast and Washington High Schools kept their internal magnet programs after Vallas nearly doubled the number of high schools by creating many small (mostly special admit) high schools. These programs were taken out of other neighborhood high schools. By sharing a building, the special admit schools keep their admission requirements (just like Northeast) but the students at least get to "co-learn" in music, AP course, sports, etc.
Submitted by Bonnee (not verified) on January 1, 2013 3:21 pm
... and let us not forget Audenreid High School -- all new --- was given to Universal Charter Schools. A private company with a public school building. Do we haev any dollars and cents on that exchange yet?
Submitted by A formerly active Parents United Parent (not verified) on January 4, 2013 12:06 am
As always, spot on, Helen! I agree with Lisa Haver about dividing up Helen's piece and reading the rest so they can hear it. Good idea! Count me in Helen.
Submitted by lanier (not verified) on January 5, 2013 6:24 pm
This is an excerpt from the Gompers Elementary Home and School news letter In a letter sent out by the SRC it was stated: “In november, the School District announced its proposal to bring our facilities in line with the number of children in District schools and to get children out of inadequate and hard to maintain older buildings that will continue to drain resources that we need for instruction. Planners have been working since 2010. Over that time, they have met with more than 1,400 of you in order to create a proposal that not only saves resources, but also makes moving among elementary, middle, and high schools better for students and their family”. In response, we ask: If your objective is to close down schools that are inadequate, older and hard to maintain, then why are you shutting down Gompers which was built in 1952, and in perfectly good condition and relocating its children to Beeber which was built in 1931? SRC says ….older buildings that will continue to drain resources that we need for instruction. Nearly 30 percent of Beeber parents polled say that the school is unsupportive. 39% believe it is unsafe, 34% are unsatisfied with the quality of education, 40% say that they don’t believe their children are being prepared for future schooling, 40% feel their child is not learning in school and 40% are not satisfied with the education their child is receiving. Yet we are to believe you will allocate resources to instruction of our children when they get there? SRC says...Planners have been working since 2010. Over that time, they have met with more than 1,400 of you . Funny, I didn’t hear anything about our school closing until Dec. of 2012; and apparently 90% of the 17,000 other families being affected by these school closings weren’t at those meetings either. SRC says...but also makes moving among elementary, middle, and high schools better for students and their family. As stated above, the Beeber parent survey data shows that in areas such as education and safety; they are unsatisfactory. In addition, Beeber Junior High School is on the 2012-13 persistently dangerous schools list as reported through the Pennsylvania Dept. of Education. Some children will be forced to walk 4-5 additional blocks through a neighborhood unfamiliar to them, and en route with 6-8th graders. Better for students and their family; really? Psychosocial Issues Research suggests that school transitions, whenever they occur, can disrupt children's academic performance, behavior, and their self image. Research says changing schools is easier on children who move into small rather than large institutions. Evaluations of school reform efforts show students achieve more when they attend smaller schools. A huge police presence(including horseback, motorcycles, and patty-wagons), extreme horse play, sexually suggestive behavior, and foul language are everyday features in and around Beeber Junior High school. Better for students and their family; really? The prophet Hosea once said My people perish from a lack of knowledge.  The School board would have you to believe that they are underfunded. They are strapped for money, or that K-8 schools work better. All of this is nonsense. The reality is that the school district plans to unload our children into the realm of private enterprise, and big business. Thats right, its the new craze of Wall Street and the super rich. Okay, this is how it works; your child is given a certain amount of money each year which goes to the public school to educate them. Charter schools know, that if they get your child, they also get their money. Yet, they have less children to support, facilities to run, and less regulations to follow which allows them to pocket a good amount of that money.(c.r.e.a.m.) I guess Wu-tang had it right. But wait, ain’t charter schools better than public schools? The most comprehensive examination of charter schools was performed by Stanford University. It found that only 17 percent of charters perform better than traditional public schools, while twice as many perform at a lower level. But wait, ain’t charter school teachers better than public school teachers? A 2004 study done by the Department of Education found that charter schools are less likely than traditional public schools to employ teachers meeting state certification standards. So what are you saying? As Helen Gym a co-founder of Parents United for Public Education writes “Whatever your opinion may be of charters, there’s no question that the District has failed to explain its inconsistent approach of allowing charter expansion without regard to expense or academic quality while insisting on draconian and widespread sacrifice among District schools. This despite the fact that many of the District schools targeted for closure outperform some of the charters that the SRC renewed and expanded last spring”. Well, this wont affect me, I wont be here next year. Not so fast; roughly 14% of our children will be selected to attend charter schools. Thats about 53 children out of 379. Some wrote of the odds another way; In a 2008 survey of United States charter schools, 59% of the schools reported that they had a waiting list, averaging 198 students; 1 in 10 will go to charter school.
Submitted by Benjamin Herold on January 5, 2013 9:06 pm

Lanier,

I'm interested in obtaining a copy of this Gompers HSA newsletter and talking to Gompers parents who share some of these concerns.

Can I ask you to either contact me offline and/or share my contact information below with the Gompers community?

Thank you,

Ben Herold

215.901.9774

bherold@whyy.org 

Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 7, 2013 8:45 am
Wonderful piece! Thank you Helen! To add this, one has to wonder why the city and state are NOT being held accountable for monies owed to the school district. The city owes $515M alone in uncollected delinquent property taxes (http://planphilly.com/tax-delinquent-properties-2012). And though the state made $2.4 BILLION in gambling money- it doesn't seem to reach the school system (http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local//philadelphia/49122-pa-slot-mac...). There seems to be corruption throughout our city leaders. The school district should have made significant cuts to administrators, not teacher- especially in the name of saving money... but it is these very administrators that make the decisions, and they would rather holler about teachers unions and save their own jobs. Since they have the power, and the votes, they decide to keep themselves and their payscales. But the problem is bigger than that. The school district used money from a major philanthropic donor (William Penn Foundation, $2.7 Million) to hire the Boston Consulting Group - a consulting firm that has gone around the country making the same recommendations: close the public schools (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/boston-consulting-group-h_n_166...). With the failing of public officials to stop this and collect taxes and deliver them to the school district as promised, they have allowed powerful private interests to move into the realm of education and buy buildings, land, and the right to educate our children at a vast discount. It almost seems as if the previous disinvestment in our public schools was a business tactic to be able to justify selling them cheaply later.
Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 7, 2013 12:13 pm
And you better believe that University of the Sciences is going to want Wilson elementary School to close so that they can buy it and expand their land-locked campus- and put up another giant wall against the West Philadelphia neighborhood just as they have now. The Univ. of the Sciences has a giant building without windows on the side that overlooks Wilson's playground- its as if they do not want to even look at the school yard in the low-income neighborhood... because if they looked at it day and in and day out- they might see children. They might want to get more involved in improving their neighborhood than they already are (http://www.usciences.edu/newsevents/newsdetails.aspx?Channel=/Channels/A...). Instead of dis-investing in it to drive down property prices so that the university can expand. UPENN was smart to partner up with a public school- invest money in it- and help finance housing loans.... the other universities would be wise to follow suit.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 1:23 pm
Of course University of the Sciences is going to buy this building! And they are going to build a nice, brand new state of the art lecture hall for their students. Pretty soon the neighborhood surrounding Clark Park will be all college students. The blocks immediately surrounding Wilson are already being used as student housing. It's a shame too. Instead of neighboring universities (Penn and USP) offering to invest in their communities, they are looking to capitalize. What makes it so sad is that there are so many positive things going on at Wilson. They have an incredible after school program (partnered with UPenn's Netter Center), a PAL program, a wonderful garden that produces fruits and vegetables students are allowed to take home, a BRAND new playground that was funded with donations from the Cole Hamels' foundation, walking distance to Clark Park, etc. Why not make Alexander Wilson a full partnership school with UPenn, like Penn Alexander? I'm sure the numbers for enrollment would sky rocket. If only the kids at Wilson were getting an extra $1300 a year. Closing all of these schools and disrupting so many communities is not the answer. This is the best idea the SRC could come up with?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 9, 2013 4:57 pm
We been had,hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amouck. Don't you see people, there is a secret agenda happining here, that there never going to tell us about, unless someone leaks the doucument from 440, give it time, the s.r.c.' s house of cards will come down....I promise! !!!
Submitted by Dannie Darko (not verified) on January 14, 2013 8:44 pm
This is a great commentary. In every prior case, the SRC has overestimated the value of its property. Remember when the district was going to make money from selling its old headquarters on the Parkway? That didn't work out either.
Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 25, 2013 3:31 pm
Well- UPenn is already partnering with Penn Alexander... but USciences could certainly partner with Wilson!! The other sad point is that no community members, teachers, or students from Wilson have come to the SRC meetings to stick up for their school. The lack of ump in the face these sweeping closures is going to see their school squashed- possibly quite literally if USciences bulldozes it for a new expanded parking lot..... Wilson people- if you hear this! Come out to the meetings- get visible! Sign into the SRC hearings as being members of your school and your community so that your presence is recorded!
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on February 1, 2013 2:31 pm
i never agree with the hemoglobin, but she makes one salient point. how many schools for the performing arts does this city need? public education should provide academic skills. a 5th high school that focuses on entertainment is overkill.
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