In a dramatic move, the School District of Philadelphia recently announced that it plans on closing nearly 40 schools and making more than $700 million in cuts in order to close a rising gap in its budget. If implemented, the move would also cause hundreds of district employees to lose their jobs, privatize some of the schools’ services, and slash up to $149 million from the city’s charter school budget.

The AP reports:

The blueprint unveiled Tuesday outlines a five-year financial plan that includes about $560 million in budget cuts. If the district does nothing, it will run an unsustainable $1.1 billion deficit through 2017, Knudsen said.

The plan also would reorganize the district’s academic and administrative structure, severely reducing the size of the central office from 650 employees to about 200. Two years ago, the office had about 1,150 workers. Knudsen noted some employees might find jobs elsewhere in the district.

Meanwhile, declining enrollment has left the district operating at 67 percent of its capacity. Knudsen proposed closing about 40 of the district’s 249 schools by fall 2013 to reach 85 percent utilization. Officials could close another six schools each year after that until the target is met, Knudsen said. 

The system currently serves about 146,000 students in district schools and 46,000 in charter schools, which are public but operate independently of the district. Charter enrollment is expected to grow in the coming years. 

Teachers and unions are not so sure about the district’s proposed reorganization and say it relies too heavily on balancing the budget instead of improving student achievement.

“This restructuring plan has nothing to do with raising student achievement,” Jerry Jordan, the teachers’ union president, said in a statement. “The district provided a business model, not a research-based plan for turning around or supporting schools.”

Philadelphia’s restructuring plan is predicated on the approval of a $94 million of revenue the city hopes to pull in from an increase in property taxes. However, if the City Counsel does not approve the increase, the Philadelphia’s schools will face even more devastating cuts.

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