School Climate & Safety

Philadelphia School District Has 70,000 Empty Seats

By Dale Mezzacappa & Philadelphia Public School Notebook — January 20, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There are now 70,000 empty seats in Philadelphia’s district schools, according to data presented to the School Reform Commission on Wednesday. With a student population around 155,000, that means that buildings currently being owned and maintained by the district are nearly one-third empty.

“On average,” the report said, “one in five property tax dollars is going towards funding empty seats.”

Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery said that school closings, consolidations, and co-locations—in which a district and a charter school share the same building—are all being considered. A new round of public meetings to discuss the options starts on February 1.

The district lost 11,000 students during the past five years and is projected to lose another 9,000 to 10,000 over the next five years—a combination of declining birth rates, people moving out of the city, and the growth of charter schools.

The new estimates came out of a new facilities master plan, the first comprehensive study of space done in the district in memory. Nunery and Deputy for Strategic Initiatives Danielle Floyd told the SRC that while elementary schools are at 82 percent capacity, secondary schools are at 59 percent.

Until recently, the number cited by officials as the district’s excess capacity was 45,000, close to the number in a study done by Athenian Properties in 2009. The latest calculation, conducted for the district by the URS Corporation and DeJong-Richter, assumes that classrooms in the lower grades would accommodate 26 students and 28 in upper grades.

Addressing this overcapacity is urgent because money spent on empty seats “can’t be redeployed to the classroom,” Nunery said. “We have to make sure the match between enrollment and facility use is as high as it can be.”

But the district has steadfastly declined to speculate as to how many schools may end up being closed.

Nunery said the priorities in the process are to provide equitable services across the district and promote student achievement. Schools today have “significant variation” in quality, programming, and cost-effectiveness, he said.

As for the physical conditions of schools, most are at least in fair condition, he said, but the cost of capital repairs is still in the $4 billion range for the 28.5 million square feet in more than 280 buildings. On a newly calculated “facility condition index,” 26 schools have a high score, meaning that the cost of needed repairs approaches the cost of replacing the building.

Nunery and Floyd said that schools now have 20 different grade configurations, and the district will be looking to achieve more standardization. Floyd said that they are looking at whether to re-emphasize middle school settings as opposed to K-8 schools. “We’ve concluded we need to have a balance; now it’s tilted one way,” she said.

The prior superintendent, Paul Vallas, embarked on a capital plan to build more new small high schools and convert most elementary schools to K-8. Vallas did not do a comprehensive master plan before taking those actions.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman appears skeptical of both those priorities. Floyd said several times that K-8 schools don’t offer middle-school aged children a variety of experiences, like sports. Same with small high schools, which may not be able to offer a wide variety of courses.

SRC member David Girard diCarlo said it is important for the public to understand that while this process will eventually make the district more efficient, it is not the answer to its looming budget woes.

“It’s important for our constituencies to understand that this is not a magic bullet to help our budgetary issues,” he said.

Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter’s chief education officer, said that the city is heavily involved in the planning process. “As a city, I hope we can rise to the occasion, figuring out as a community what to do with these schools,” she said. “We have to look at school closing in relationship to the whole community they sit in.

Related Tags:

Republished with permission from The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. Copyright © 2011 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Video Should Teachers Carry Guns? How Two Principals Answer This Question
One has two armed school employees. The other thinks arming teachers is a bad idea.
4 min read
People hold signs in the gallery against a bill that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session in the House chamber on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
People hold signs in the gallery against a bill that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session in the House chamber on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
George Walker IV/AP
School Climate & Safety Former Uvalde Police Chief Indicted Over Response to Robb Elementary Shooting
The former chief and another former officer face felony charges of child endangerment and abandonment.
3 min read
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at the school.
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in the shooting at the school.
Jae C. Hong/AP
School Climate & Safety Can a Teachers' 'Bill of Rights' Bring Order to the Classroom?
Alabama's new law gives teachers the authority to remove misbehaving students from class.
4 min read
Image of a student sitting outside of a doorway.
DigitalVision
School Climate & Safety Gaming Is Part of Teen Life. These Districts Use It for Better Student Outcomes
Scholastic esports is attracting students who would otherwise not participate in extracurricular activities.
4 min read
Connor Allen, of Cranberry, Pa. picks his character before a round of "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate" during the Steel City Showdown esports tournament at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, on May 11, 2019 in Pittsburgh.
Students get ready before an esports tournament at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, on May 11, 2019 in Pittsburgh.
Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP