Philly school district officials: what we have doesn't work

Thomas Knudsen (left), the district's "chief recovery officer," and former district CFO Michael Masch (right), who is now a "special adviser" to Knudsen. (Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer)

School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos was blunt in a Tuesday news conference (which I live Tweeted here) announcing that the Philadelphia School District's current structure will essentially be blown up.

"What we know through a lot of history and evidence and practice is that the current system doesn't work," Ramos said.

The future, Ramos and Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen said, will include decentralization, performance-based "achievement networks" of schools that operate on contracts, and, beginning in 2013, 40 fewer school buildings for the district to run. After closing those schools, the district plans on shutting six more schools per year through 2017.  (It does not plan on teacher layoffs, Knudsen said, but it's not clear how it's possible to close 40 buildings and not lay off any teachers.)

And the budget?  Ugly.  There's a $218 million deficit for 2013 - and that will be higher if Mayor Nutter's Actual Value Initiative doesn't pass City Council.  (And it doesn't currently have the votes to pass.) 

The SRC and administration said that unlike in years past, they will not rely on borrowing huge sums of money to pay for recurring costs and day-to-day expenses.  They won't be able to achiveve a balanced budget next year, but will get there by 2014, Knudsen said. "We’ve learned that truth in budgeting is ugly, but it’s better than not knowing what the real deal is," SRC Commissioner Feather Houstoun said.

Next school year will be a transition year, with a pilot "achievement network," development of a new curriculum, better training and recruitment of principals and teachers, new safety initiatives, expansion of high-performing schools, etc. etc.

It's change on a massive scale.  Stay tuned.

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