Big Decision Day for Philly Schools

While the closing and reuse of Schenley High School has grabbed attention, the school district across the state is going to vote tonight on closing 27 public schools, an action that, if taken, is being described as one of the largest school closing plans in recent history.

Proponents of the action, including the District’s Superintendent, say that if it does not happen there might be issues with payroll or opening the District as a whole after the summer. We noted last fall how the Philadelphia School District borrowed $300 million to keep things afloat.

The District’s CAFR shows that it had 249 elementary, junior/middle, and senior public schools in FY 2003. There were 228 in FY 2011, a decline of 8% (the rate of closure in Pittsburgh has been much greater, with 88 schools in 2003 and 56 in 2011, a decrease of 36%). Twenty seven more would be a 12% decline from where the District stands now. Interestingly in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh senior schools have stayed relatively constant; the biggest percentage drops in both districts occurred in the junior/middle school level.

Rightsizing the Pittsburgh School District

At last count-at least at the point in time of the last audited statement-the Pittsburgh Public School District had 71 buildingstotaling 7,343k square feet. That was down from 100 buildings and 9,527k square feet in 2000. The building count is expected to decrease in the 2012-13 school year is another realignment plan is approved. All told, five buildings will be shuttered completely after certain schools are closed and programs and operations move to buildings in a new arrangement.

The majority-over 90% in fact-of the District’s square footage is related to elementary, middle, special and secondary education. In 2000, the District had 4 buildings with 287k of square feet used for administrative and financial support (2), operation and maintenance of plant (1), and food service (1). The combined 287k of those buildings represented 3% of all square footage. By 2009 the District had added another building counted as administrative and financial support (with 261k of square feet) and the resulting square footage of "back office" space rose to 548k. With total square footage in the District standing at 7,343k, the District’s share of square footage for administration, maintenance, and food rose to 7%.

We have written a lot about the headcount related to "teachers" and "non-teachers" in the District and the ratio of those classifications to enrollment. In short, the relative size of non-teachers has risen tremendously while the teacher ratio has remained flat. It is no surprise that square footage has exhibited a similar trend and that, in the latest round of cuts, no administrative space is disappearing.