OUR OPINION: For Neighborhood Schools, Do The Math

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From beginning to end, public schools belong to the public.

That is why it is imperative that Philadelphia’s citizens be involved in planning how to downsize its public-school system. While it is the School District’s job and duty to carry out this task, it must be a collaborative effort with its end users. Top-down approaches don’t work in this town.

Bottom-up approaches take time, though. And it is not clear the School District has time. Its budget is severely constrained and it cannot hope for easy jolts of bail-out aid from Harrisburg or Washington.

A strong movement is building to push for a one-year moratorium on school closures. This would be a good thing, if the School District can afford it. But if it cannot, those who want a moratorium need to craft an alternative funding plan to keep up the spending for surplus space.

While the School District’s budget reckoning may be wrong, we cannot close a $71 million shortfall simply by assuming it is wrong. This move deserves an “F”. Critics must beast poor calculations with better ones.

Some schools may be saved, but some must go. Citizen activists must be prepared to name schools for closing as well as schools for saving.

The disparate impact of school closures on minority communities is especially worrisome. It probably cannot be avoided altogether, however. That is because the greatest population drops in the city over the last 20 years have taken place in mostly African American neighborhoods of West, Northwest and North Philadelphia. These communities cannot keep all the schools that were built for thousands more children than they now have.

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