S.R.C., Change Smith School Ruling

Filed under: Featured News,Opinion |

The Save Smith School Committee protesting the gentrification in Point Breeze by the sale of Smith School and four other schools by the School District of Philadelphia. The protesters assembled in front of School District HQ at 440 N. Broad Street. Photo by Eldon Graham

“For all children, a great school, close to where they live.”

—Vision statement, School District of Philadelphia

When it comes to this vision, the School District of Philadelphia is operating with blinders on. The SDP still has some vacant properties on its hands, left over from the closure of 24 public schools in 2013: It sold five school buildings in an “all or nothing” deal to a private developer in 2014 for $6.8 million.

So if the properties have already been sold, why are they still in the possession of the School District?  Because a group of Point Breeze neighbors, the Save Smith School committee, has been asking the School District to act with some long-term vision, rather than engage in a short-sighted sale.

Our entire city is dancing to the hypnotic tune of luxury-market condos and townhouses, and this tune is about turning a fast buck in this hot real-estate market.  These changes are morphing into profitable property sales all over the city, except in one place: the School District.

The SDP petitioned for approval of this sale, and the trial court – after listening to the concerns of Point Breeze residents – denied it. After some wrangling in the courts, the decision was to let the sale stand.

But budget crisis aside, when did it become acceptable for the SDP to become one of Point Breeze’s biggest gentrifiers? When you sell a school knowing it’s for market-rate housing, you are choosing to push out our most vulnerable and impoverished residents. You are selling the future of our children to make way for 45 luxury condominiums. You are hurting the people you claim you care about and are supposed to serve. You are ruining the sense of community of our neighborhood.

The district is broke. We get it. But with all those tough choices the School Reform Commission has to make, there is still an opportunity to do the right thing. The decisions made in 2013 needs to be re-evaluated considering all that has happened in Point Breeze.

Yet we are still sitting here. Sale pending, the SRC is saying: “What a shame, but there’s nothing we can do.” We say: There is something you can do. You can do your due diligence and seek data, facts, projections, information to make an educated decision. You can make your sales process transparent and engage the community. You can remove language that makes it so challenging to get out of a bad deal. You can do better by this city and its citizens.

The Save Smith School Committee has rattled cages at every SRC meeting since October 2016. We have presented data and information about how our neighborhood is changing – data and information the SRC admitted it had not considered when making this sale. This sale will knowingly impact residents by pushing out many low-income African Americans, minorities, and poor families if the developer turns these schools into market-rate housing. How can the School District turn a blind eye to the low-income students and families?  How can the School District ethically justify pushing gentrification in low-income communities?

Elected officials, SRC members, and mayor’s office officials have met with us, given us leads, encouraged our efforts, and even supported our argument, but this one group of appointed officials, the SRC, which holds the power, says their hands are tied.

Everyone makes mistakes.  You’ve admitted that what happened was just that – a mistake. Will you have the courage and the vision to correct it? Will you break this contract?

Save Smith School Committee

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One Response to S.R.C., Change Smith School Ruling

  1. Many parents voted with their feet and Smith School closed as a result of low enrollment. The original Child’s School sits vacant at 17th & Tasker because the current Child’s at 16th & Wharton consolidated and is at maximum enrollment. There was a developer that signed on to build apartments at the old Child’s but they have been stymied every step of the way. The School District received money for Smith School already as an advance from the City of Philadelphia. Tax payers are ultimately on the hook for the money that the city advanced the school district. Education of our children and gentrification are two separate issues. If there are not enough children to justify another school at this location, what will the end use of the building be?

    Michael Bell
    May 22, 2017 at 1:50 pm

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