ONTD Political

Blowing Up the School District

7:19 am - 04/25/2012
THE REALITIES are ugly, leaders said Tuesday - the Philadelphia School District is nearly insolvent, lags most other urban districts in academics and loses students to charters because parents believe it doesn't keep their children safe.

"What we do know through lots of history and evidence and practice is that the current structure doesn't work," School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said. "It's not fiscally sustainable and it doesn't produce high-quality schools for all kids."

So, at the SRC's direction, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen announced a plan that would essentially blow the district up and start with a new structure.

The plan - subject to public comment and SRC approval - would close 40 schools next year and 64 by 2017, move thousands more students to charters and dismantle the central office in favor of "achievement networks" that would compete to run groups of 25 schools and sign performance-based contracts.

Knudsen, in a news conference, avoided references to the "Philadelphia School District."

"We are now looking at a much broader definition of education in the city that includes not only district schools, but other schools as well," he said.

Mayor Nutter hailed the plan, which he said would push control over education down to the school level. "If we don't take significant action, the system will collapse," the mayor said. "If you care about kids and you care about education and you care about the future of this city, that's what we all need to grow up and deal with."

But teachers' union president Jerry Jordan decried the radical restructuring as the SRC divesting itself of many of the core responsibilities of public education. He called it a "cynical, right-wing, market-driven" blueprint, one that is " totally dismantling the system."

Massive money problems are forcing the SRC's hand. For years, the district spent money it did not have, the current administration now says.

Left unchecked, the district's budget deficit would grow to $1.1 billion by 2017, officials said.

Officials outlined a $2.5 billion 2012-13 budget. To fill a gap, leaders are relying on a $156 million savings from personnel costs - namely, benefits and wage concessions from unions, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Jordan said only that he would "negotiate . . . when our contract expires" - in 2013.

The student-organizing groups Youth United for Change and Philadelphia Student Union said in a statement that they were "deeply concerned about the direction the district is taking" and wary of a repeat of the failed privatization plan of the early 2000s.

Cecilia Thompson, an involved district parent, worried about the lack of detail. "I'm not against change - this isn't working - but this plan isn't clear," she said.

Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters Pennsylvania, said that the public, especially teachers and principals, must seize this opportunity to weigh in, even though many feel mistrustful of the district.


Even if they use fancy words, they're essentially dissolving the eighth largest school district in the country. Other articles/people have been throwing around terms that make it sound like, 'If your kid is in the district, start looking at private-only education.' Also, I can't read this headline without thinking of the stories of Rizzo actually blowing up a block of housing.
bestdaywelived 25th-Apr-2012 08:24 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't know what to think about this. The Philadelphia School District has actually been improving since they got rid of Arlene Ackerman! Granted, they are still seriously underperforming, but I don't think that pushing these kids into charters is the answer. Ugh.
chasingtides 26th-Apr-2012 01:48 am (UTC)
Stranding the families, in say Olney or Far West, with the option of placing into charters or private schools - which, by definition, a lot of the kids can't - is... Beyond the pale. I brought it up at work (in the 'burbs with more privilege than I can puke on) and my cubicle mate asked if we're bringing back the work farms, too.
mastadge 25th-Apr-2012 09:58 pm (UTC)
This disastrous "plan" has really been weighing on me the last few days.

"You're not speaking to me, Mr. Knudsen" by Helen Gym is possibly my favorite response I've read to this today.
alierakieron 26th-Apr-2012 01:26 am (UTC)
I feel awful for the families in the district. We're in a struggling district ourselves, and pretty much all the options we are facing are rough ones. I can't imagine how much worse they have it.
nekomika 26th-Apr-2012 03:35 am (UTC)
Oh goodie. Someone in administration got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and their "punishment" if you will is the dissolving of their school district. It's a huge sweeping fix because those are always easier than asking tough questions and holding only certain individuals responsible. Just churns my stomach really. :|

This sucks for the kids, this isn't going to help them in the long run.
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