By Mike DeNardo, Ben Simmoneau
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia School District is planning to close 37 schools for good at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.
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The dramatic downsizing would close roughly one out of every six public schools in the city: 37 schools in all, including 11 high schools, four middle schools, and 22 elementary schools.
Among the high schools to close are Germantown High, Strawberry Mansion High, University City High, and Bok Technical.
About 17,000 students attend the schools on the closure list, and superintendent William Hite acknowledges there will be public backlash.
“We have no doubts that this announcement will likely spark tremendous controversy, angst, emotion and concern throughout many stakeholder groups associated with public education in Philadelphia,” he says.
But Hite says that in a deficit-ridden district where more students are attending charter schools than ever before, the move has to be made.
The district says they have lost 50,000 students to charter schools over 10 years; so many schools are only half full and downsizing can save $28 million a year and make the remaining schools stronger.
“We do not have the resources to continue to pay for surplus empty space,” he says.
“Save our schools,” was heard as protesters chanted after the announcement made by Philadelphia School District superintendent William Hite.
Many of the people gathered, largely union members, believe the school district of Philadelphia is selling them short by closing dozens of schools to save money.
“Our kids chose our school for its community, for its teachers and for that environment,” says Brian Kelly who teaches English at Bok High.
But top district officials see it differently.
Hite says the two goals of the downsizing are to improve the district’s academics and its financial viability.
“We will ensure the financial sustainability, stability and survival of the Philadelphia School District,” says Hite.
District officials say few if any teachers will lose their jobs but support staff will see cuts. The mayor says this is a tough but necessary decision.
“There are still many specifics to be worked through, but this is the right decision at this time,” said mayor Nutter.
The Philadelphia School District will host four community and neighborhood meetings leading up to the School Reform Commission vote: