Have you heard the one about 'underutilized seats' and the need to save money by 'right sizing'?... No -- not Chicago and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, but... Philadelphia -- and William Hite Jr. -- talking from same script about need to close schools

Maybe the reason Chicago's corporate media aren't reporting on the "right sizing" of the Philadelphia public schools by their latest out-of-town schools chief because of a "fiscal crisis" and massive "underutilized seats" is because the story is almost identical to the one they've been telling in Chicago -- so why bother repeating the same "facts." But as Chicago schools enter the year 2013, Philadelphia propagandists are working from the same script -- and with some of the same actors -- as Chicago.

William R. Hite, Jr. in Philadelphia, like Barbara Byrd Bennett, is a mercenary from out of town who comes to the city to screw the public schools. "Underutilized"? "Underperforming"? "Underfinancing"? Even the vocabulary is the same. One would think the next thing you know, they'll be using the same Power Point slides, and swapping their bureaucratic underlings (all of whom will be easy to identify because none will have ever taught in their city's public schools, despite the fact that they are paid in six figures).

William Hite Jr., recently appointed superintendent of Philadelphia's public schools after major corruption allegations dogged his time as chief of the schools in Prince Georges County Maryland, is cast in the same corporate mold as Chicago's Barbara Byrd Bennett, a mercenary dispatched to the cities working from the same union busting privatization and disinvestment script put forward by the neoliberal establishment. Across the cities of the USA, the neoliberal attack on public schools is unblushing about its racist attacks on the public schools in urban USA that serve the poor -- and the black and brown. What you can read about underutilization in Chicago in the Chicago Sun-Times is about the Philadelphia schools in The New York Times. It's already been done to Detroit (by Barbara Byrd Bennett and others) and will soon be coming to a big city school district near you).

On the last day of 2012, the New York Times ran a major story in its national edition reporting on the latest attack on Philadelphia's public schools -- in almost the same terms used in Chicago:


Published on line in The New York Times December 30, 2012. In print in the national edition December 31, 2012.

PHILADELPHIA — Like many public schools here, University City High School is underused, underfinanced and underperforming.

William R. Hite Jr., the schools superintendent, says the closings will help keep the district solvent. More Photos »

Nearly 80 percent of its 11th-grade students read below grade level in statewide tests this year, while 85 percent failed to make the grade in math. Last year, about only a quarter of its students participated in precollege testing like the SAT.

Largely because of the lure of local charter schools, the school is one-quarter full, with fewer than 600 students for its nearly 2,200 seats. It needs major work on its infrastructure, including lighting and heating systems, that would cost an estimated $30 million.

Now, facing deep financial problems, the Philadelphia School District has proposed an unprecedented downsizing that would close 37 campuses by June — roughly one out of six public schools, including University City. If the sweeping plan is approved, the district says it will improve academic standards by diverting money used for maintaining crumbling buildings to hire teachers and improve classroom equipment.

The 237-school district faces a cumulative budget deficit of $1.1 billion over the next five years, after $419 million in state cuts to educational financing this year. The district’s problems are compounded by the end of federal stimulus money and rising pension costs.

Even after borrowing $300 million to pay the bills for this academic year, the district faces a deficit of $27.6 million, a figure that officials say will rise sharply in coming years.

Its problems are worsened by having to maintain buildings that are drastically underused. Among 195,000 student “seats,” 53,000 are empty, according to the district’s new superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., who argues that the solution is to close the schools, sell their buildings and transfer students into those that remain open. Some middle schools would be converted to elementary schools, and vice versa, and many students would be moved to different schools, sometimes in different neighborhoods.

In all, 17,000 students and more than 1,100 teachers would be affected by closings, program changes and new grade configurations. Schools that would be closed were selected on the basis of their physical condition, usage, academic record and cost per student.

The proposal, announced on Dec. 13, is the outcome of a two-year process that began long before Dr. Hite’s arrival on Oct. 1. Without the closings, he warns, finances will deteriorate to the point where the district itself will be in jeopardy.

“We run the risk of talking about a district that is no longer financially able to operate,” Dr. Hite told a noisy meeting of about 450 parents, students and teachers at Martin Luther King High School in the Germantown neighborhood on Dec. 19, at which district officials were trying to sell their plan.

Although the district has been able to borrow enough to operate this year, it has reached its credit limit, Dr. Hite said. “We no longer have the ability to borrow that kind of money going forward,” he said.

Other large cities, including Chicago, Detroit and Washington, are also considering school closings because of declining enrollment, competition from charter schools and overcapacity, said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools.

But Philadelphia has been hit hard by state education financing that has been among the lowest per student of any major city, Mr. Casserly said. “The state’s historical lack of spending has had an eroding effect on the district,” he said.

The proposed cuts — which are scheduled to be voted on in March by the School Reform Commission, a state organization that oversees the district — have ignited angry protests from teachers, students and parents. They argue that children, particularly in their elementary years, should not be forced to attend school outside their neighborhoods; that academic improvements would be disrupted; and that students attending new schools would be victimized because of longstanding inter-neighborhood rivalries.

At University City High, the announcement produced shock and disbelief, said Timothy Stults, the principal, who has overseen academic improvements since taking over leadership of the school in 2009. He now wonders whether his work will be undone by the impending closing.

“I had some level of emotion, some frustration” in response to the district’s announcement, Mr. Stults said.

Under his leadership, the proportion of students attaining the state proficiency or advanced standard in reading rose to 22.4 percent this year from 6.7 percent in 2010. Math proficiency increased to 14.4 percent from 3.6 percent over the same period.

“In many respects, this school was the worst school in the city,” Mr. Stults said. “That’s no longer the case.”

For some students, anger over the planned closing of University City High has been replaced by an understanding that the proposal reflects the poor condition of their building, not academic performance. Students are now focusing on how to keep the school community together, albeit in a different location.

“Emotion turns into logic,” said Matthew Gillian, 18, a senior who is helping in the search for alternative locations for University City students at schools that remain open. “It makes you understand why certain things have to happen.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 31, 2012, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: An Ailing School System Sees a Fraught Path to Solvency.

Hite's corruption, like Barbara Byrd Bennett's, preceded his move to Philadelphia, as reported below:

Philly’s ‘broke’ school district boosts salaries of 25 nonunion workers.

As the Philadelphia School District continues to deal with a financial crisis, several members of the teachers union are angry over the district’s recent decision to give raises to non-union members.

The school district awarded raises to 25 non-union employees, a move that the district called a “necessary part of doing business.” The Philadelphia Daily News reports the 25 staffers received a total increase of $311,351 in salary, which averages out to $12,454 per year. This is the same tactic previously used by Dr. William Hite in PGCPS school district before he left for Philly. In Prince George’s County for example, Ms. Monica Goldson “Goldson” was given a huge raise in suspicious circumstances together with others close to Dr. William Hite Jr. Unfortunately, in these circumstances, money that could be allotted for classroom supplies to further the education of youth, and to increase homeless children’s participation in the educational system, is being used elsewhere.

Recently, there has been an unprecedented increase in homeless individuals living in the United States because of hard economic times, thus, Dr.Hite and his colleagues who are involved in this illicit act, should reconsider returning the money to the treasury, and allotting it to its respective educational needs. What is quite disturbing about these practices is that, one employee received a 49% raise, for example. This particular employee had only been in the system for approximately three years and now makes over 100k. (Read more here), (here) (here), (here) and (here). It’s time!


January 1, 2013 at 1:47 PM

By: Ken Derstine

Hite from 'Broads'... Philadelphia public schools under siege

Dr. William Hite, the current Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools, is a 2005 graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.

The Broad Superintendents Academy is a ten-month executive management program designed to prepare CEOs and senior executives from business, government, and education backgrounds to lead urban public school systems. The Broad Foundation has trained hundreds of school Superintendents and state education administrators around the United States in how to privatize public schools.

The first superintendent-in-residence, from 2006-2007, of the Broad Superintendents Academy was Dr. Arlene Ackerman. From 2008-2011 Dr. Ackerman was Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools. During this time, known only to her inner circle in the School District, Ackerman was on the Board of the Broad Foundation. (See this March 19, 2009 press release:

During Ackerman’s tenure she starved the public schools while pouring funds into new charters, Renaissance Schools and Promise Academy’s. A campaign has been escalated since 2008 to discredit Philadelphia public schools while encouraging parents to move their children to charter schools. The School District was already struggling due to chronic underfunding since it was taken over by the state and run by the School Reform Commission which is appointed by the Governor (3) and the Mayor (2) in 2001. One of the state’s first actions under the state takeover under Governor Tom Ridge was an attempt to turn over Philadelphia public schools to Edsion Schools. This quickly failed.

During his first year as Governor, current Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett cut funding in the 2011-2012 budget for public education by $1 billion, with districts with low income families being cut the most. (That Corbett is carrying out ALEC’s agenda can be seen by his increasing funding for prisons by $700 million in the same budget, including three new prisons which will be privately owned, for profit institutions.)

The cut in Philadelphia funding in the 2011-2012 was $300 million, $581 per student. This combined with the starving of the public schools for funds during Ackerman’s tenure, and money being poured into charters, has lead to the projected deficit of $1.5 billion over the next five years. Despite this deficit, the SRC allocated $139 million for charter expansion in the summer of 2012.

Ackerman was given a $1 million by-out by the Mayor and the SRC in August, 2011 after she came into conflict with local politicians over which charter company should be given ownership of Martin Luther King High School. In the report to the Mayor on September 11, 2011, two interviews with Ackerman were recorded. The investigator noted that in attendance were two visiting fellows from the Broad Academy who were “shadowing” Ackerman.

Hite was appointed Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools in July, 2012. He had previously been Deputy Superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. Hite spent his first few months holding community meetings assuring people that Ackerman’s “reign of terror” was over. However, hard at work since the spring of 2012 was the Boston Consulting Group which was drawing up plans for the privatization of Philadelphia’s public schools. The initial phase of this plan was rolled out December 12th. Key to this plan is closing 37 schools due “dropping enrollment” since parents are transferring their children to charters which has led to under enrollment in many schools. School officials always site this drop in enrollment as a mystery or directly blame the schools they are supposed to be managing as the reason for the drop in enrollment. At community meetings the week before the Winter Break; parents, students, and teachers made it clear that they weren’t buying any of the spin being put out by Hite and the SRC.

See also:

During the School District’s Winter Break in the back pages of the Inquirer was the following article:

District recruits corps to lead way to reorganization

from the Philadelphia Inquirer

“They are recruiting a small group of people at every level of the organization, from teachers on up, to be part of a unique "Transformation Corps" - 15 or so employees who will work to solve the school system's most critical problems.

The members of the corps will answer to folks at the top reaches of the district and work with high-level mentors - successful superintendents and experts from around the country...

Corps members will be embedded in a specific area of the district, but have access to top leadership. They will also meet weekly as a group for seminars, and be mentored by a group of outside officials now being gathered.

Kihn said he could not disclose names since no agreements were in place, but the volunteer mentors would likely include successful urban superintendents, CEOs of organizations that successfully transformed themselves, and perhaps mayors of cities that handled major quality-of-life issues.”

Read more:

Can there be any doubt that the Broad Foundation will be the guiding force in this “Transformation Corps” in the Philadelphia School District?

January 2, 2013 at 3:19 PM

By: Valerie F.Leonard

School Closures

Thanks, George, for this story. If I hadn't read the title, I would have sworn this article is about Chicago. Again, I want to apologize in advance if my comments are out of line.

Over the past couple weeks, I have been reading stories like this, and communicating with people all over the country via Facebook. The story repeats itself in cities from coast to coast and states in between. As a result, I have started an online petition to President Barack Obama on his We the People website, which encourages citizens to petition our government. We are petitioning the President to stop policies that encourage mass school closings while expanding charters. We need 150 signatures for this petition to be visible on the website. We need 25,000 signatures in order for the President to provide a public response on the website. I ask that you and Substance readers sign the petition and share the link on Facebook and Twitter.

January 2, 2013 at 3:26 PM

By: Valerie F.Leonard

Relationship Between Gates District Charter Compact and Mass School Closings

I have been gradually cross-referencing the school districts that are participating in the Gates District Charter Compact and school closures. As you are aware, the Gates Foundation encourages school districts to close the bottom performing 25% of schools; expand charters; fund charters at the same levels as district schools; provide an exchange of knowledge between charters and the districts and prioritize the conveyance of the empty buildings to charter schools. All across the country the superintendents seem to be reading from the same script--the need to close schools due to under-utilization and budget deficits, as they continue to expand charter schools. If these other cities are anything like Chicago, they are using financial and utilization data fraught with errors to justify pre-determined outcomes.

January 2, 2013 at 4:45 PM

By: Rod Estvan

Gates Compact has been voided in Chicago

Chicago was left out of the round of district-charter collaboration Gates Foundation grants announced on December 5, 2012.

Deborah Robinson, a Gates Foundation spokeswoman stated: “Due to the recent administrative changes, we believe this is an opportunity to support the new superintendent in her transition and to give her adequate time to learn about the Compact and whether she might want to make any changes to the [grant application], as she would be part of the leadership team responsible for its implementation.”

Apparently based on this decision CPS is no longer bound by the Compact and a new one would have to be drafted in order for CPS to be eligible for a second round of funding in the spring or early summer of 2013. The big problem for CPS is a requirement of the Compact to give charters the same funding as traditional schools.

In Illinois school districts by law are allowed to pay charter less per student than they spend on non-charter schools students. Under current law, charters may receive no less than 75% and no more than 125% of what traditional public schools receive in per pupil funding. Charter schools have attempted to get this aspect of the Illinois charter school law changed, but they have failed. While CPS claimed to be not opposed to the change in the law behind the scenes they opposed the law change as did the CTU, IFT, and IEA.

The Compact was the method around the law that allowed CPS to pay charters less on a per student basis than it supposedly (many teachers and parents would argue this money never gets down to the school level) provides to traditional students.

The Compact has been put on the shelf. CPS wants charter schools on the cheap, and apparently it is rethinking whether the Gates deal is worth the extra costs to the district.

I know the CTU and the vast majority of readers of Substance believe charters are fundamentally a tool to break teachers unions and CPS is willing to provide funding for this goal. But if CPS' primary goal here is to save money then they want to save money in their funding of charters too. On average CPS charters pay their teachers at least 10% less than CTU teachers earn, from the CPS perspective that may still be too high. Why not 25% less? Why sign on to a deal with Gates if CPS can get charters cheaper than the deal that foundation wants?

Rod Estvan

January 3, 2013 at 1:05 AM

By: Valerie F.Leonard

Thanks, Rod Estvan

Rod, thanks for yet another great analysis. I thought I read in one of the articles that CPS and Gates came to a mutual agreement for CPS not to pursue a $4 million+ grant this round, but they are still eligible to compete in the spring for $20 million capital. In the meantime,they have agreed to provide technical assistance and professional development for the CEO. Please clarify.

January 3, 2013 at 7:25 AM

By: Rod Estvan

What Gates may want

What the Gates Foundation may want from CPS may be linked to the illinois Network of Charter Schools which signed the Compact, There is no evidence that CPS met the terms of the original deal. While CPS did increase its funding for special education teachers paid to charter schools, it has not moved towards equal per student payments. Again the term equality is based on the average funding traditional students supposedly get not what in reality may end up at schools.

None of the on going discussions between Gates, CPS, and the IL Network are public so its unclear what the real disagreements are in detail. But its more than fair to assume its about money.

Rod Estvan

January 3, 2013 at 11:50 PM

By: Valerie F.Leonard

Thanks Again, Rod

Thanks again for the clarification, Rod.

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