Do school closings save money?

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.

4 thoughts on “Do school closings save money?

  1. You are correct. Since Philly school officials have tied closing budget gaps with school funding packages, Philadelphia public schools face significant structural deficits. Commission officials have to realize they need to consolidate district schools to combat declining enrollment instead of expanding district schools through their charter school growth plan.More in my post:

  2. The title of this headline is ‘Do School Closings Save Money?’. I was hoping that given the title, there would be a thoughtful analysis of expenditures, cost of moving students, staffing levels, utilities cost, etc. Instead, the only numbers mentioned in this article are the asking price of a school vs the sell price. Drawing a conclusion from this one set of numbers is the equivalent of guessing if the Phillies will win the World Series based on Ryan Howard’s batting average in the third inning of the 52nd game.

    The sale of the school is only one part of the equation. If we’re going to tally the numbers, let’s also discuss the capital expenditures. Capital expenditures for a given building remain relatively fixed, while revenue continues to fall. However, none of your analysis reviewed the given expenditures vs the revenue. I would gladly submit to a discussion where all costs are discussed and we can arrive at a thoughtful conclusion to the question of your blog post titled, ‘Do School Closing Save Money?’

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