EDITORIAL: School-closing decisions painful, but necessary
Mar 10, 2013 (The Philadelphia Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As sad as it was to see adults and children crying over the final decision to close 23 Philadelphia schools, it was more disheartening to see politicians act as if they were innocent bystanders in the matter.
Particularly irritating were City Council members who acted sympathetic but hadn't tried to get the schools more money by adjusting the property-tax rate during the reassessment process. Council patted itself on the back for giving the schools extra funds last year, but the commitment was modest.
Gov. Corbett has recently suggested more education dollars could come from selling state liquor stores, but that may not happen. If Philadelphia wants more cash for schools, it needs to look to itself, because its legislators are unlikely to pry more out of Harrisburg.
People do need to keep in mind, however, that even if Philadelphia had more money than it ever needed for education, some public schools would still need to be closed. It's mostly a matter of demographics: The city's population has gotten smaller and shifted since many schools opened.
Add to that equation the proliferation of charter schools in recent years, which has taken students from schools that are now half-empty, as well as the continuing trend of families choosing academically superior private or parochial schools if they can afford the tuition.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. should be commended for the process he went through before the School Reform Commission voted Thursday. He was accused of not listening to the public, but he did. That's why an initial list of 37 schools was reduced to 23.
The last four schools taken off the closing list included T.M. Peirce Elementary, which the granddaughter of SRC member Sylvia Simms attends. Hite walked the routes to the schools where Peirce's students would be transferred and agreed that they were too dangerous.
The decision made sense, but it opened the SRC to charges of favoritism and failure to apply the same standard to all schools. The likelihood of similar dangers elsewhere means the plan must be accompanied by a redeployment of police along routes where students from formerly rival schools and neighborhoods will now commingle.
Closing schools is not a precise science. Union leaders are right to speak up for members who will lose their jobs as a result. But this had to be done -- to save the School District money, to adjust to the student population, and to close some schools whose academic performance demanded it.
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