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Philadelphia School Reform Commission Votes To Close Seven Schools, Adopts Preliminary Budget

By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The School Reform Commission has voted to close seven aging public school buildings. But two schools were spared from the district's chopping block.

The SRC has also adopted a preliminary budget for next year that contains a huge hole

Faced with underutilized buildings that are increasingly expensive to maintain, the School Reform Commission approved closing seven schools: Harrison, Pepper Middle, FitzSimons High School for Boys, Philadelphia High School for Business and Technology, the Sheridan West Academy, Levering and Drew Elementary. Rhodes High for Girls would revert back to a middle school.

"We need to do this because we continue to have too many facilities that are too old to support a modern academic program," said Commissioner Wendell Pritchett.

But two high-performing schools were spared: E.M Stanton in South Philly and Sheppard in West Kensington, where James Otto is the principal.

Sheppard Elementary
Students and staff at Sheppard Elementary (in purple t-shirts) rejoice after their repreive. (credit: Mike DeNardo)

"I think we proved to the world tonight that a school exists in the hearts and minds of people and not just in the frame of an old building or a new building."

The elementary schools slated to close will shut their doors in June. The middle and high schools will be phased out over the next several years.

With state revenue flat and expenses going up, the district's $2.5 billion budget for the year starting in July is $186 million short. And that's assuming $94 million more from the city's new tax assessment system. After cutting school nurses and school police, district Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen says there aren't many school-based cuts left.

"With having eliminated over $600 million of costs last year, we've come to the conclusion that there's really nothing left in the field, as it were -- in the schools. that what we have to do now, is be more creative in other ways."

Including as-yet undisclosed efficiencies recommended by the Boston Consulting Group, and, Knudsen says, even more concessions from its unions.

The district is required to adopt a balanced budget for next year by May 31.

The School Reform Commission's finance committee chair, Feather Houstoun, says the panel's goal is to bring stability to the school system so that teachers and staffers aren't constantly waiting for the budget ax to fall again.

"The SRC is absolutely committed to having schools operate not in a fiscal fire drill."

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