Philly schools will close on weekends, early on weeknights

Starting next week, the Philadelphia School District will cancel all weekend programs and shut school buildings an hour early during the week in order to save $2.8 million.

The efficiencies are necessary to close a $61 million budget gap by June, officials said.

Spokesman Fernando Gallard on Saturday confirmed that the district is “planning on closing the schools on the weekends” and at 8 p.m. on weekdays, and said an official announcement would be made early this week.

The closures will affect many non-district programs.  City Department of Recreation activities often take place in city school buildings.

The cuts will begin next Saturday, Feb. 11, Gallard said.

Organizations that pay the district to use its buildings will still be able to use them.

“These organizations will be billed for the cost of keeping the school open for their activities,” a district official wrote in a letter sent Friday to elected officials.  “Organizations that currently have payment agreements with thedistrict will be grandfathered into those agreements, but all new activities will be paid for according to the district’s payment schedule.”

The changes “are being enacted to create a substantial savings in utilities, personnel and overtime spending,” the letter said.

The decision to shut buildings early was “difficult,” the district said in its letter.

On Friday, the district eliminated 91 school police jobs, eight regional office jobs and six central office jobs.  The police cuts save $617,000; the total savings of the other cuts is not known.

Also unclear is exactly how much the district must cut before June.

The school police cuts mean that 100 schools are now without permanent officers stationed inside their buildings, up from 75 schools.

The cuts come on top of thousands of layoffs and deep program cuts made in September and December and more reductions announced in January, including a drastic cutback in summer school and pay raise recisions, furloughs, and salary reductions for some nonunionized administrative employees.

Officials have said that cuts to school psychologists are also on the table, as is the elimination of spring athletics, instrumental music, gifted programs, and bilingual counselors. Those decisions have not yet been made, however.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz, who has questioned the district's financial viability, has estimated the district will need to cut $400,000 a day to make up the $61 million shortfall by June.

The district already faces a $269 million budget gap for its 2012-13 fiscal year.