If the School Reform Commission adopts the Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, then the School District of Philadelphia, as we have come to know it, will cease to exist.
That – along with the plan to close 40 schools by next summer, followed by an additional 24 over the following four years and the privatization of many services– will help the SRC realize its goal of a balanced budget in five years, said commission members during Tuesday’s press conference at school district headquarters.
“We want to emphasize what we learned, that truth and budgeting is ugly, but it’s better to know what the real deal is,” said SRC member Feather Houstoun. “District-run schools have made progress, but are still behind other urbanized school districts.”
Houstoun joined fellow SRC member Wendell Pritchett, Chairman Pedro Ramos, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen and Safe Schools Advocate Penny Nixon in making the groundbreaking announcement.
The school district has been under pressure to straighten its financial ship even before news broke that it faced a multi-million dollar budget deficit for the current school year. To put in perspective just how bad the district’s finances are, if left unchecked and allowed to operate at its current pace, the district could face an $1.1 billion deficit over five years.
The district had to do something, Ramos said, because “what we do know is the current system is not working.”
The dynamic and wide-ranging plan addresses two overarching goals through which the district can realize other gains: producing safe, high-quality schools while attaining a balanced budget by fiscal year 2014.
To achieve both, the blueprint – submitted to the SRC by Knudsen - calls for an aggressive reorganization plan and other potentially painful austerity measures.
For example, to balance the district’s budget in five years, the blueprint calls for its operations to cut $122 million in expenditures; similar cuts of $156 million in personnel and $149 million in lowered per-pupil payments to public charter schools will help the district get close to its goal of $400 million-plus in cost savings. That number doesn't include an estimated $133 million in additional revenue – along with $94 million in value from the Actual Value Initiative. AVI receipts are based on real estate taxes, and city council and the mayor are having ongoing debates and hearings about it.
But it was the reorganization plan that drew the most interest. According to the blueprint, the school district operations office would become a more efficient and lean central office, bracketed by the office for Achievement Networks and offices for Charter Management Operations. The new central offices will also house the Shared Services unit.
The Achievement Networks are the group of outside businesses that will vie for contracts offered by the reconstituted district, Knudsen said. Those contracts will last the duration of the five-year plan, and they can be replaced if deemed unworthy or failed to meet certain requirements. These contracts will be performance-based and those awarded contracts must meet certain community and equity requirements.
“There will be relationships of accountability,” Ramos said of the relationship between the SRC and businesses in the Achievement Network. “We are looking for fundamental accountability. What we have now does not produce high quality schools. It was time to grab the moment and make changes.”
The SRC will have several open budget hearings where it will solicit feedback from the community, Ramos said. The first meeting will be held at 5:30 on May 1 at district headquarters, with others schedules for May 2 at Kensington’s CAPA High School and on May 10 at West Philadelphia High School.
“The next step is, we need to hear from the public,” Ramos said, noting that each of the 64 targeted schools will at least operate through the 2012-13 school year. “That process will begin in later summer and early fall; we plan on having several discussions with the community.”