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City Council to hold school-closing hearings

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Feb 11, 2013 11:21 AM
Photo: Nathaniel Hamilton/NewsWorks

Jannie Blackwell, chair of City Council's education committee, called for hearings on the School District's proposed school closings as a chance to negotiate with the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite.

Over the last six weeks, parents, students, labor unions, and clergy have all taken turns blasting the School District of Philadelphia's plan to close 37 schools by next fall.

Now, City Council wants to get in on the act.

"Everybody agrees that some schools have to be closed. But certainly not all of them," said Jannie Blackwell, who chairs Council's education committee.

Blackwell, who represents the city's Third District in West Philly, has called hearings to begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Council chambers.

She recently led Council in adopting a non-binding resolution calling for a one-year moratorium on any new school closings. But Blackwell says that Tuesday's hearings are a chance to negotiate with the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite.

"We think we've already won some victory in that Dr. Hite is saying, 'Well, maybe not all 37 schools have to close,'" said Blackwell. "We're hoping we can give him reasons to back up even more on some of these schools."

Hite is scheduled to testify at the hearings. Representatives from the SRC will also be present.

District officials have indicated they're willing to be flexible on the specifics of their school-closings plan, to a point. One way or another, they say, the cash-strapped city school system needs to save $28 million per year through school closures.

Blackwell says that Hite and the District now have no choice but to listen, however.

"There's been a groundswell," she said. "Everybody's upset because some of the decisions to close some schools just don't make sense."

In a recent interview, Mayor Michael Nutter chalked up the opposition to the District's ambitious school-closings plan to the city's culture of being resistant to change, saying, "This is Philadelphia."

Blackwell bristled at that notion.

"Talking about a moratorium is a grassroots, bottom-up fight for inclusion" by communities who are upset about not being consulted before the District announced its plan, Blackwell said.

But the best reason for District officials to hear Council out has to do with dollars and cents: Before long, the District will likely be asking for more funding to help close its massive budget gap for next school year.

"Money always talks," Blackwell said. "We will certainly use whatever leverage we have to [make] the School District continue to listen."

This story was reported as part of a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Public School Notebook.

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Comments (6)

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on February 11, 2013 11:12 am

I'd like to see Council members' timesheets. What do they do all day? In a process that has been publicized for over 2 years, they never found time to hold a meeting with their constituents to hear how there might be alternatives, and even constructive possibilities with closures? Not even when the SDP already went begging to them last year? Not one of them, not even the mayor has looked at the details of the U.S. Census data? So their distance now gives them the right to do what?

Oh for goodness sake...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2013 3:32 pm

She did find the time to hold a hearing on the topic of school prayer at the start of the budget crisis. So there's that.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2013 2:44 pm

City Council has no say, so this is just more waste of taxpayer money. They should be going after tax deadbeats and making sure that the firefighters and paramedicas get their contract!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2013 2:40 pm

Nutter is right and wrong. This IS Philadelphia to be sure but with that comes a proud tradition of having had some very good schools. This is the same kind of "money crisis" (manufactured) that leads people to insist that those who "take entitlements" are greedy. WHY isn't the governor funding our schools is the real question?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 12, 2013 1:15 pm

Nutter just needs to shut up. He should be embarrassed to even show his face in Public. Uncle Mike.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on February 12, 2013 1:42 pm

Nutter bites both the hands that feed him. I enjoyed your post--many good points.

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