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Philadelphia School District Unveils Building Consolidation And Closure Plan

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Officials at the Philadelphia School District today unveiled the first step in a plan to downsize the district substantially by closing schools across the city.

Right now, the district has as many as 70,000 excess seats according to some estimates, and it could stand to shed 40,000 of those.

In this first round, the district has targeted nine schools for closure, eliminating 14,000 seats. Some schools will be closed at the end of this academic year, forcing students to relocate. Others, however, will be phased-out gradually, which means no new students will be accepted but current students can complete their time.

Acting superintendent Leroy Nunery says he understands the list will not please everyone.

“What we don’t want to do is just shut buildings down or make a whole lot of changes without talking to the public,” he said. “At the same time though, we can’t not do anything.”

Nunery says the closures – which at this point are just recommendations for the School Reform Commission to consider – will save the district money and could even raise funds with the sale of shuttered buildings. The district says it has raised $26 million through real estate sales over the last six years, but it has not yet had any offers for eight properties put up for sale last year.

Some experts say it can be extremely difficult to sell old, sometimes dilapidated school buildings, especially those in struggling neighborhoods, and the savings from operating the schools are not necessarily significant.

“The savings aren’t gigantic,” said Larry Eichel, director of the Philadelphia Research Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew recently studied how school districts in six other large cities, including Pittsburgh and Chicago, handled downsizing. “We found [the savings were] under a million dollars per school on average, which in the budget of a big city school, is not that substantial.”

The school district hopes it can provide a better educational experience by eliminating schools in the worst physical condition. It also plans to streamline the district’s various grade configurations into four basic alignments: K-5 elementary schools, K-8 elementary schools, 6-8 middle schools, and 9-12 high schools.

This is all likely to frustrate some parents, however, who are already happy with their child’s school. Felicia Kraus has four children at Edwin M. Stanton Elementary in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, one of the schools scheduled to close at the end of this year.

“I love this school. The teachers are great. The kids are great. There’s no problem here,” she said. But now, she’ll have to start looking for a new school. “It’s going to be sad. It’s going to inconvenience a lot of parents. My kids are going to be heartbroken over this.”

Iris Richardson says she worked for a year and a half to get her daughter into Stanton. She doesn’t live in the school’s neighborhood, but wanted her daughter to go there because she says it’s better than the available schools in her home area of Point Breeze.

“A year and a half worth of work and then, all over again,” she said. “I’m very worried.”

Here’s a list of the schools to close at the end of this school year:

–Levering Elementary School (the building will be used for the AMY Northwest program)
–Harrison Elementary School
–Sheppard Elementary School
–Drew Elementary School
–Edwin M. Stanton Elementary School

–Fitzsimons High School will stay open next year but only for grades 8 and 12. It will close in June 2013.

These schools will be phased-out over time, which means all current students can finish their time there but no new students will be accepted:

–Sheridan West Academy (close in June 2014)
–Philadelphia High School for Business (close in June 2015)
–Pepper Middle School (close in June 2016)

These schools will have their grades realigned next year:

–McClure Elementary will change from K-4 to K-5
–Roberto Clemente Promise Academy will change from 5-8 to 6-8

These schools will have their grades realigned in the 2013-2014 school year:

–Gompers Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Cassidy Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Harrington Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Comegys Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Alexander Wilson Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Shaw Middle School will change from grades 7-8 to 6-8
–Cramp Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Stearne Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Lawton Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Tilden Middle School will change from 6-8 to 5-8
–E.W. Rhodes is currently grades 7-12 for girls. This will change to grades 6-8 for both sexes to feed students into Strawberry Mansion High School
–T.M. Peirce Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Whitter Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Pratt Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5
–Wright Elementary School will change from K-6 to K-5

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS3; Mike DeNardo, KYW Newsradio 1060

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