‘Hard’ to close empty classrooms

The Philadelphia School District’s process to downsize through school closings will likely be a contentious one with little financial benefit in the short-term, according to a report released yesterday.

The report from Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative, which examined the process in six other cities, found that the average annual savings is minimal short-term. It also suggests there is minimal impact on student performance.

With thousands of empty seats across the 163,000-student district, officials are expected to release a right-sizing plan early next month with a final vote by the School Reform Commission in early 2012. The district has seen public school enrollment drop steadily due to fewer school-age children and the booming rise of charter school enrollment.

The best way to gain public acceptance is to hire outside experts to guide the process and vote on schools as a group instead of individually, the report says.

“This is hard,” concluded Larry Eichel, the report’s author. “Even when the process is done with all the thinking, in the best of all possible circumstances, there’s nothing easy about this.”

Moment of clarity?

Philadelphia has history of backroom dealing in large-scale initiatives of this sort, but district spokesman Fernando Gallard said officials are going to great lengths to have transparency.

“We are committed to the public process and will make sure that it’s transparent and everyone is included,” Gallard said.

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