For months, public and district officials have claimed that school closings are necessary if we’re going to address our fiscal crisis. After all, the District has threatened to close anywhere between 29-57 schools this year alone to close the financial hole. But do school closings actually save the District money?
Last week the School Reform Commission approved the sale of three school buildings. Here’s what the Notebook reported:
- Jones Middle School Annex in Kensington was sold to Elm City Capital and Richmond Mills LP for $250,000. Asking price was $350,000.
- Simon Muhr Elementary in North Philadelphia was sold to Philadelphia Suburban Development Corp. for $150,000. List price was $360,000.
- Walton Elementary in North Philadelphia, closed for almost a decade, was finally sold to Kipp Charter and MIS Capital LLC for $320,000. It was listed for $450,000.
All told, the schools achieved little more than 60% of their asking value, with one school, Muhr Elementary, receiving less than half its list price. Not only did public property transfer hands at a cut-rate deal to private developers, but our local schools continue to struggle as a result of severe state underfunding and a lack of investment in neighborhood schools.
This should come as no surprise for those who study trends around school closings. In 2011, a national report from the Pew Foundation noted that Districts tend to overestimate the amount of money they’ll gain from a school sale and often have difficulty moving schools in struggling neighborhoods. The report noted how unsold buildings can languish for years on the market and become a neighborhood eyesore. Walton Elementary has remained empty since 2003 before its announced sale this week.
Are some school closings necessary? Yes. But a mass school closings effort under the pretense of closing a fiscal gap is a stretch that parents should approach with caution, skepticism and data.