Friday, January 20, 2012

The Philadelphia School District's deficit could lead to the decline of Center City

Over the last year, there's been a lot of celebration in the local media about how college-educated parents are staying Philadelphia and raising their kids here—and even sending them to the better of the city's public schools. While Philadelphia has a lot of problems, the revitalization of Center City has generally been judged to be a good thing.

I suspect that progress is very much threatened:
In plainer, starker terms than it had ever used before, the School Reform Commission laid out the district's financial woes to the public in a dramatic meeting Thursday night.

Commissioner Feather Houstoun, who chairs the SRC's finance committee, said the situation was much worse than people realized.

And with 51/2 months before the end of the school year and little left to cut, the only options left on the table are bad ones - possibilities include cutting all spring sports, all instrumental music, all gifted programs, half the district's psychologists.
Oh, and all of school police officers, too—that in a year in which school safety has been highlighted as one of the district's biggest challenges.

I'm not sure what percentage of Center City kids go to public schools; obviously there's a relatively high proportion that end up in private schools. But I also know that we've stayed in our Fitler Square neighborhood apartment, in part, because we're in proximity to one of the city's most-praised elementary schools. We can't afford to send our son to private school in 2013, so we thought we could have our urban cake and eat it too by planting our flag right here.

But if schools are being stripped for parts because the administration couldn't see this financial disaster coming, I'm not sure what choices we'll have. We love living in the city. But we're not precious about it: I'm not willing to sacrifice my son's education and well-being just because I like being in walking distance of Rittenhouse Square.

And I'm willing to bet there are plenty of parents like me. Mayor Nutter really should be on alert: The crisis in the school district threatens the revitalization of Center City. What's bad for the schools could end up being awful for the entire town.

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