Hite testifies before Council about Philly school closings
Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Tuesday that he hoped to share changes to the district's school-closing plan next week, giving the public time to assess revisions well before the School Reform Commission votes on the final proposal in March.
Testifying before City Council, in a room filled with about 150 activists who mostly opposed closing the 37 schools, Hite said public comments had helped him understand the need to revise the plan before presenting it to the SRC.
"Original recommendations don't always end up being final recommendations," Hite said.
The hearing, with 56 listed witnesses, lasted most of the day and occasionally boiled over in anger.
During Hite's testimony, Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell, the West Philadelphia Democrat who chairs the Education Committee, pounded the table for quiet. When speakers mentioned Gov. Corbett, whose cuts to education funding contributed to a projected $1 billion district deficit over five years, people booed.
Much of the testimony repeated themes and numbers that have become common refrains in the debate over the proposed closing of schools to save money and deal with the loss of nearly 60,000 students in the last decade.
Many speakers worried about small children having to cross busy streets and travel long distances through unsafe neighborhoods.
Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said he had walked some of the routes that children would have to traverse to get to their new schools and found them dangerous.
"Quite frankly, I'm a grown man, and it scares me," Jones said. "In some cases, we had to cross major thoroughfares that are as wide as rivers."
Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. warned Hite not to portray the $28 million in estimated savings from the closures as money to be used for hiring teachers or expanding art programs.
"We already know that money is not going to be invested in making our schools better," Goode said. Hite acknowledged that any savings would go to fill the deficit, but said the savings would accumulate over the years in ways crucial to the cash-strapped district.
Goode said the district might face a tough time getting money from Council in the future if it did not identify ways any money would improve education.
"Don't come to us asking for money," Goode said, "unless you can tell us what it is actually going to be invested in."
The SRC will hold closing hearings Feb. 21, 22, and 23, and is scheduled to vote on the plan March 7.
Contact Miriam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5520, or follow on Twitter @miriamhill.