Only two months ago, officials at the Philadelphia School District said that there were 45,000 empty seats in the district’s 248 schools.
On Wednesday, they came up with a slightly different figure: 70,000 empty seats, larger than the number at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite the seemingly impossible number of classroom vacancies, the school district has done little in recent years to downsize the system, even while facing budget deficits such as the $430 million shortfall projected in its next fiscal year. Although some schools are only half-utilized, the school district still needs to staff each one with management, security, utilities and maintenance.
The student population has been shrinking over the years, partially due to the rise of charter schools, and the decline in school-age children as the city’s population has decreased. Even though the growing number of empty seats is not a new issue, the school district is only now looking at doing something about it.
Daniel Floyd, the deputy for strategic initiatives, said that “school closing is one option, but not the only one.” Some others are relocating programs to underutilized schools, offering space to charter schools and repurposing some of the school buildings.
The school district currently has 162,000 students, down 11,000 over the last five years, and expects the number to be at 144,000 by 2015.