A Philadelphia school district planning process could mean closing and consolidating schools

Having long been hampered by a large number of aging and unsafe buildings and not enough money to repair them, Philadelphia school district officials have invested more resources in a process to assess the extent of repairs and determine next steps. . – which could eventually include school closures, consolidations and other changes to its infrastructure.

The condition of buildings in the district “impacts our ability to provide the high-quality educational environments we want for all students,” Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said. “Some of our schools were built in 19th century, and we know that these buildings cannot meet the 21st century learning needs of our students.

The district last reviewed the facilities five years ago, estimating it had $5 billion in unmet capital needs. Officials launched a searchable database on Tuesday that details not only the physical conditions of building systems for each school, but also information about each building’s “educational relevance” and each school’s current use. While some schools are packed, others are underutilized. And the school system has been losing about 4,000 students a year for several years.

A quick search of the database shows a complex and sometimes bleak picture of a district that lacks the capacity to generate its own revenue. For example, Francis Scott Key Elementary in South Philadelphia, the oldest school in the system, built in 1889, scored 50 on a scale of 1 to 100 for educational adequacy, deemed “unsuitable to support the curriculum educational/governmental”. It scored a 71 for use, “approaching an inefficient use of space.”

The district previously launched a “comprehensive school planning review” in 2019, budgeting $1.4 million for work that was due to finish in 2023 but languished during the pandemic. The school board approved an additional $1.3 million this year for the new planning process, with funds allocated to pay engineers, architects, demographers, public engagement firms and others.

The key to the process now is public input, said Vanessa Benton, the district’s deputy chief planning officer.

“We really want to encourage the community to come to the table, Benton said during the press conference. “We are not closed to the idea that the options we are considering are going to come from the community or from stakeholders.”

District-wide community meetings are scheduled for this spring; school meetings are planned for later in the year. The recommendations should be made public next spring.

Reggie McNeil, the district’s chief operating officer, said a host of options are on the table, including: ‘consolidation, maybe relocating students to another school, maybe downsizing infrastructure of a school in order to put more resources into a school. I think those are all options we could ask the community to consider.

Information is crucial. School board members said they currently do not have an adequate picture of the district’s construction priorities when asked to make decisions about spending money on projects ranging from new playgrounds to the reopening of the Sayre high school swimming pool.

As the broader policy process continues, the school board is preparing to consider revisions to its “adjustment” policy for school closures. He will begin discussing the current policy at a meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Louisa R. Loomis