Philadelphia School District May Dismantle Central Office

The School Reform Commission recently directed Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen to announce a plan that would radically restructure Philadelphia School District — a district suffering from years of financial mismanagement, a woeful academic record and facing the prospect of many more students abandoning ship to attend charter schools in the future.

“What we do know through lots of history and evidence and practice is that the current structure doesn’t work,” School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said. “It’s not fiscally sustainable and it doesn’t produce high-quality schools for all kids.”

The plan revolves around the dismantling of the central office and replacing it with ‘achievement networks’ that would sign performance based contracts and compete for the right to run groups of schools. Instead of the central office running 249 schools, the district would in effect be broken up, as officials claim that the old command structure is archaic and proven not to work.

Knudsen said. They would be “a group of people who choose to do business with the SRC and the central office to run” from 20 to 25 schools organized either by geography or by some other theme.

While Mayor Nutter is also on board with the changes, perhaps predictably union reps are not. Teachers union president Jerry Jordan called it a ‘cynical, right-wing, market-driven’ blueprint.

“This is totally dismantling the system,” Jordan said. “It’s a business plan crafted to privatize the services within the School District.”

Mayor Nutter has once again called on the City Council to approve his budget plan. The $90 million it would raise by altering the way that the city calculates property taxes would go a long way to easing additional budget pressure on the school district. The current $218 million deficit is calculated assuming that the Mayor’s plan is passed and if it gets denied, which is a distinct possibility, then the school district’s money woes will get a lot worse.

“If we don’t take significant action, the system will collapse,” the mayor said at a separate news conference. “If you care about kids and if you care about education, if you care about the future of this city, that’s what we need to all grow up and deal with.”

The district is estimated to save $33 million by closing 40 underutilized schools, and is seeking to make $156 million of savings in concessions on wage and benefits from unions such as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. How difficult this will be considering Jordan’s reaction to the current plans remains to be seen.