By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two weeks before Philadelphia school district officials announce another round of school closures, City Council members today held a daylong hearing on the controversial plan.

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The hearing lasted hours and was dominated by school parents and other advocates who object to the closure process.

Anne Gemmell, of the group “Fight For Philly,” said empty seats in schools — the condition prompting the closures — can actually help education.

“Small class size is a good thing for so many of our kids, not a reason to close a school,” she said.

And Gemmell, echoing the concerns of other speakers, objected to the report by the Boston Consulting Group — commissioned by the School Reform Commission — that recommended extensive school closures.

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“Principals, teachers, parent leaders, and the students themselves should have been the voices shaping the BCG plan,” she said today.

In response, the new schools superintendent, William Hite, cautioned councilmembers that the consultant’s findings are only recommendations.

“It is just that: a report, a set of recommendations to be considered as we work to develop more comprehensive plans of action for the school district.”

However, Hite made clear that with an estimated 70,000 empty seats, the district needs to downsize.

“I know that the prospect of shuttering schools is painful for families, staff, and the community at large,” he said.  “At every step of this process we have attempted to be sensitive to that reality.   Difficult conversations will be had, and difficult decisions will need to be made.  In some cases, there is going to be a tough sale (to the community).”

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Hite said further school closing announcements will come in mid-December, followed by public hearings and a final vote by the SRC in March.