Parents and activists got their first opportunity last night to weigh in publicly on the Philadelphia School District's aggressive overhaul plan. The district wants to close more than 60 schools and send more students to charters.

Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen told the School Reform Commission that the District's basic ability to operate come September hinges on City Council's enactment of the Mayor Nutter's Actual Value Initiative (AVI). The AVI would re-assess all properties in Philadelphia and deliver desperately needed revenue for the District, which is facing a $218 million shortfall next year.

"Were we not to get the $94 million from the AVI initiative, it isn't clear that we could in fact open schools this Fall," said Knudsen.

Calling the District's current structure "unsustainable," Knudsen also argued for a recently unveiled "transformation blueprint" that would radically overhaul the District's operations.

But parent Rebecca Poyourow blasted the plan, which would break the District into so-called "Achievement Networks" run primarily by outside entities.

"It is at best foolish, and at worst devious, for you to choose this moment of fiscal crisis to foist this poorly conceived and primarily ideological reorganization scheme on Philadelphia's schools," said Poyourow.

And parent activist Helen Gym was one of several speakers who challenged the School Reform Commission to press lawmakers in Harrisburg for more money rather than living with state budget cuts.

"There is a huge difference between saying we have a short term financial crisis that we have to get through and someone telling us that we're supposed to live within our means for a long term state of penury and poverty in this school district. We get half of what Lower Merion makes. For any public official to stand up and say that we have to live within our means is a disgrace," said Gym.

A series of community meetings on the District's budget and transformation plan begins tonight at Kensington CAPA High School.


For NewsWorks/Public School Notebook