The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union set up "informational picket lines" at city schools today before classes in protest of a plan that could close scores of schools.
"The whole point is to start letting parents know their schools may be closed down, and we don't know which ones," said Barbara Goodman, a union spokeswoman, who was heading to the John B. Kelly Elementary School in Germantown early this morning. "It is informational picketing, and part of what we're calling Fight Back Friday."
Goodman says the union hopes to plan similar actions every Friday until the proposal is defeated. Today, union members fanned out across city schools from about 7:45 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.
"It's going to be very bad for the city," Goodman said of a School Reform Commission proposal that would close schools in a plan to cover a $218 million shortfall in the coming academic year. "This is not going to work for a city like Philadelphia."
The Philadelphia School District's financial situation is so dire that it is asking the city for $94 million from a proposed city property-reassessment plan in order to open doors in the fall.
The district's chief recovery officer, Thomas Knudsen is proposing a total overhaul of how schools are organized and run. More students would be shifted to charter schools, and the central office would be shrunk, with district schools managed by staff or outside organizations who bid to run them.
As part of the overhaul, Knudsen is proposing to close 40 buildings — though not necessarily 40 school programs — in 2013 and six more annually through 2017. That would save about $33 million.
No schools, however, have yet been identified for closure. A list is not expected until summer or early fall.
But the union plans to start its "informational pickets" now to inform parents of the scenario.
"The whole point is to start letting parents know their schools may be closed down, and we don't know which ones, Goodman said.
The union has 15,000 members, many of whom carried signs and handed out leaflets to inform parents about what they say are the dangers of the plan.
Lee Lessick, a fifth-grade math teacher, was outside the Kelly School holding a sign that read: "Teachers seeking parents help to keep John B. Kelly open."
Lessick, 39, said he fears the school could be turned into a charter. But, he said he really doesn't know if it ever would be, and that the uncertainty is part of the problem.
"We don't want our school to become a charter," Lessick said. "My personal concern is our collective bargaining rights, and everything we've fought for the past four decades. We don't want our schools closed. And we won't know until summer which ones. That's part of the problem ... in this political game."