Philadelphia, Chicago Eyeing School Closures Amid Protests

Two urban school districts are preparing to tackle problems stemming from their revenue shortfalls and a falling student population by closing and merging schools, even if they have to do it over the protests of their local teachers unions.

In Philadelphia, where the municipal finances are especially precarious, administration officials are preparing to vote on the closure of 27 schools. However, according to Philadelphia Inquirer, parents, together with the city's teachers unions, are banding together to prevent the planned vote.

Today is the decision day for the five members of the School Reform Commission who meet to decide not only the fate of the 27 schools, but also a number of related issues such as program merges and grade changes. Since the meeting had been announced, two additional schools have been put on the "to close" list, but the vote on their ultimate fate will not be held this week.

Security should be tight. Anti-closing protesters interrupted the last two SRC meetings.

If the SRC endorses even most of the proposals, the result would be among the largest mass school closings in the country, with one in eight city schools shutting its doors permanently in June.

The action was important enough to draw AFT president Randi Weingarten, who said she was "standing with the community, which is standing for its kids. Kids need allies, and community needs a voice, and Philly is proving that over and over again."

The closing plan is part of a scheme "to essentially destroy a public education system for reckless alternatives," the union chief said.

While the AFT is fighting its fight in Philadelphia, Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel has signaled that he will begin following the recommendations presented in a report by the commission charged with studying the issues troubling the city's schools. The Commission on School Utilization found that the district could go ahead and close down 80 schools in the city, without suffering reduction in the quality of instruction or extensive overcrowding issues.

The commission was put together by the Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and she should feel justified in her selection since the findings appear to be an unqualified victory for her plans to shutter underutilized school buildings. The panel confirmed her assertions that even though the number of schools picked for closure at the same time is unprecedented, CPS is well positioned to make the transition as smooth as possible.

The district is working off a preliminary list of 129 schools that could be closed. Clark declined to give a specific number of how many might be closed, but the report indicates that CPS has the capacity to shutter 60 to 70 schools, and that others could have their staff completely replaced, a process known as turnaround, or share space with other schools including privately run charters.

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