Nine schools on chopping block for 2012
When Kenya Simmons found out that her son, eight-year-old Kashi, wanted to deliver babies, she was overjoyed that he had already charted a career path, no matter how far down the road it may be.
What is less certain, though, is where Kashi will attend school next year as he pursues his goal. A third-grader at Stanton Elementary, where he attends with his first-grade brother, Kenneth, the family learned Thursday morning that Stanton is one of nine Philadelphia schools recommended for closure next year as part of the School District of Philadelphia’s Facilities Master Plan.
The recommendations are the result of declining enrollment, aging and under-utilized schools, and unprecedented funding cuts the likes of which the district has never seen before. They are expected to go before the School Reform Commission at the end of the winter or early spring.
If Stanton were to close, Simmons’ children would be given the option of being reassigned to either Arthur or Childs elementary schools. A part-time student at Community College, Simmons likes Stanton. She likes the fact that the preliminary data indicate that 75 and 74 percent, respectively, scored proficient or advanced in reading and math on the 2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) standardized test. And she is happy with first-year principal Stacey Burnley, whom she describes as “informed” and a principal “who is not a principal from just behind the desk.”
What she doesn’t like is feeling as if her choices have been dictated.
“If this goes through, it’s like they are playing the shell game,” Simmons said. “Only here you pick one and they still tell you where you are going. It’s like they knew what they were going to give you all along. It’s hard on your kids because you could lose your entire school, your classmates and your teachers — all because of money problems and their mistakes. It’s disgusting.”
One major reason for the school closings and grade reconfigurations is the dwindling student population. The district has lost 11,000 students over the last five years, and there are just a little more than 150,000 students in the district. Officials project that decline will continue over the next five years, resulting in the district experiencing the exodus of 10,000 more students.
Officials reported that that there are 70,000 empty seats throughout the district. Putting this in perspective, Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, has a seating capacity of 67,594. And with a goal of 85 percent, the district’s current average utilization across all buildings is just 67 percent.
On average, one in five property tax dollars is going toward funding empty seats, according to the District.
The closings would save the school district an estimated $500,000 to $1 million per building. Other schools slated for closure are: Levering, Harrison, Sheppard, and Drew Elementaries; Pepper Middle School; and Fitzsimons High, Sheridan West Academy, and Philadelphia High School for Business.
Overall, officials estimate that it would cost $4 billion to address all the current facilities needs. However, just $160 million is allocated for capital improvements over the next five years.
This is not the first time that Stanton has been considered for closing. Back in 2003, the school — which utilizes every room in the building except one — came close to closing, but avoided being shut down.
Yesterday, the school was bustling with action. Media swarmed the school early in the morning, wanting to speak with parents and administrators. But as the afternoon approached, Principal Stacey Burnley was flittering about the school office, encouraging students and proceeding as if nothing has changed.
“I’m not upset, because it was just a proposal,” Burnley, who had been principal at Pennypacker Elementary before coming to Stanton, said. “My job and my moral and ethical responsibilities are to ensure that my kids don’t feel this one ounce. In fact, it could be a civics lesson. For the most part their instructional day is going to be maintained. The teachers are committed, and they are going to ensure that they are going to have a safe and positive learning environment.”
Simmons said that education funding — or the lack thereof — should never be a reason for shuttering schools.
“It’s an issue that should never come up in our society,” Simmons said. “When the government is funding prison building, politicians’ affairs and other things of that matter, it’s not fair that people have no choice in what happens to their schools.”