By Steve Gunn

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia school Superintendent William Hite has designated one out of six city schools for closing in June, in an effort to help the district shrink a huge budget deficit and improve academics for city students.

Overall 22 elementary schools, four middle schools and 11 high schools would be closed, according to a report from About 17,000 students and 2,000 employees would be affected by the plan, the news report said.

There would be layoffs, but few teachers are likely to be affected.

The plan must gain final approval from the Philadelphia School Reform Commission before implementation. The commission is expected to vote in March, according to the news report.

The closings will reportedly help the district save about $28 million, which it claims it needs to survive. The district recently borrowed$300 million just to keep its doors open through the current school year.

There are clearly good reasons to close the schools. All are reportedly underutilized – one has 193 students in a building designed for 1,071 – and all are academic underperformers in a district with disastrously low student test scores.

The school district has lost about 50,000 students over the past decade, largely to charter schools, and past administrators have failed to make building adjustments accordingly, according to Hite.

“Many superintendents chose to kick the can and continue to just kick it and let someone else deal with it,” Hite was quoted as saying. “There’s no more room to kick the can.”

While Hite’s plan may be logical, there is no reason why the Philadelphia school district should have such a large and threatening budget deficit.

A recent EAGnews report revealed that the district’s collective bargaining agreement with its teachers union includes numerous unnecessary provisions that suck millions of dollars out of school coffers every year.

For instance, one provision forced the district to pay $165 million toward employee health insurance in 2010-11, with only a $270,000 contribution from employees. Another forced the district to pay $15.3 million in “termination pay” to union employees who left the district for any reason. Yet another forced the district to pay $2.6 million to a “legal services fund” that pays private legal costs for employees.

A few adjustments to those absurd clauses would easily produce the $24 million that officials say the district needs to remain in business.

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