The Philadelphia School District has 70,000 empty seats, and that number will only rise as charter schools expand in the city and the district itself votes to cede management of some schools to outside organizations. We know the district is counting on $25 million in savings over the next two years through closing and consolidating schools.
But which schools? We've waited a long time to hear the answer to that. The district has held meetings throughout the city but given given scant details. Tonight, at a special School Reform Commission meeting, we got a little more clarity on how what the district will look like in the future.
No schools will close in September, however, and we don't know which ones will close by 2014, the target date for the district's "rightsizing" efforts.
Here's what we do know: within three years, the district said, it will close buildings and annexes, terminate leases and sell empty buildings - up to 50 of these in all. Officials also vowed to reduce the number of grade configurations district-wide from 25 to 4.
The goal is to reduce the number of excess seats by at least 50 percent - to 35,000 or fewer - by 2014.
We heard about some changes that will happen in September.
Ethel Allen, now a district Promise Academy, is a K-6 school now. It will become a K-8 school.
Ellwood, a K-6 which now rents space from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, will become a K-5 school. Sixth graders will go to Wagner Middle School, which is already Ellwood's feeder school for seventh and eighth grade. The district will save about $60,000.
Smedley, a K-5 that's now a Renaissance charter school run by Mastery Charter Schools, will become K-6. Then Smedley kids will go to another Mastery school, Lenfest, instead of Harding Middle, a district school.
Mann, another K-5 Renaissance charter run by Mastery, will become K-6. Students will then go to Mastery Shoemaker.
Gratz High, currently a district school but slated to become a Mastery school in September, is only at 50 percent utilization rate. It will become a 6-12 school.
Lamberton Elementary School and Lamberton High will consolidate to one school with one principal.
Hancock Elementary, a K-5 and LaBrum Middle School, a 6-8. While both buildings will remain open, they will become one school with one principal.
Elkin Elementary - The Elkin annex, which currently houses kindergarteners, will close. Kindergarteners will relocate to the Elkin Little School House.
Bridesburg Elementary - The school is currently scheduled for a major renovation and addition. The district will lease the former St. Bernard's from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and relocate all students for a year. (This gets the project done quicker - the old plan was to try to fix the building while the kids were in it.)
LISTINGS FOR SALE
The district will list the following empty buildings for sale immediately: Ada Lewis, Alcorn Annex, Beeber-Wynnfield Annex, Childs, Gillespie, Walton, and Muhr.
The SRC doesn't have to vote on these changes.
Officials said they will make recommendations on which schools to close for September 2012 by this October. After community input, the SRC should vote on those closures (and other changes) in January 2013.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Beginning Tuesday, there will be a series of meetings around the city for folks to weigh in on what the district ought to do going forward.
Details should be up on the district's website soon - http://www.philasd.org/fmp