By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As it looks to slash spending and improve achievement, the Philadelphia School District on Tuesday announced a plan to restructure itself.

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The cash-strapped district intends to close 40 underutilized schools in the next year, and as many as two dozen more between 2014 and 2017.

“If we don’t close these schools, and we just keep them up — and a lot of them have very low utilization — we’re blowing about $33 million,” said District Chief Recovery Officer Tom Knudsen. “We can’t afford that.”

The district is also creating what it calls academic networks that will compete to manage groups of schools.

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According to Knudsen, that means the district will cut the number of staffers at the central office.

“We started off at something like 1,150 positions two years ago,” Knudsen added. “It’s now down to something on the order of 650. And when we talk about the lean center office, we’re going to be talking something on the order of 200-plus.”

Other proposals include possibly privatizing school maintenance services, restructuring benefits and freezing non-personnel spending for two years.

Knudsen said if the district did nothing, its budget deficit would balloon to more than a billion dollars by 2017.

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The plan needs the approval of the School Reform Commission.