Why this public school district might close every one of its high schools

Posted September 21

A proposed education plan calling for the closure of all four public high schools in Erie, Pennsylvania, is causing a stir, with the district's superintendent suggesting that officials instead bus current students to wealthier suburban schools.

The idea comes as Erie's education system, which serves a predominately black student body, has faced financial woes of late, with superintendent Jay Badams drafting the plan to help local kids secure fair education access, NPR reported.

From crumbling buildings in Erie to a lack of proper textbooks and a lower-than-needed per-pupil budget, some say the city is desperately in need of a change; they say that the proposed closure plan could help usher in that very change.

"If our students would need to attend schools in other districts in order to have some sort of equity, then that may end up being the most ethical and moral decision," Badams said, according to the outlet.

Funding is one major issue in Erie, as state officials dole out budgets to schools without a strategic, student-centered approach, meaning that some schools in wealthier districts with more resources actually get more per-pupil than the schools in Erie — a troubling dynamic considering the issues there, NPR reported.

"According to the findings of the Basic Education Funding Commission in 2015, Erie’s Public Schools is underfunded by more than $37 million and, as a result, spends less per pupil than 80 percent of districts in the state," read a district statement released back in May.

School officials unveiled potential plans at the time to close down schools, citing a $10.3 million budget deficit for the 2016-2017 fiscal year; even with $6 million in cuts on the table, officials were still $4.3 million short, WJET-TV reported.

To bridge the divide, the district proposed cutting all art, music and sports programs, eliminating full-day kindergarten, getting rid of district police and eliminating technology purchases, among other proposals.

The state stepped in to give emergency funding, though critics say this won't solve the deeper and broader issues that plague the school system — issues that impact the lives of its 3,000 high school students.

Eric Public Schools is already estimating an $8 to $10 million budget shortfall for the next school year as well, according to

The proposal to shut down schools in 2017 and bus students out has certainly made some waves, dividing parents in the wealthier, surrounding areas over whether the plan is right or wrong; some parents have expressed worries over what busing in kids from the lower-income Erie schools will look like.

Others, though, support the plan.

"I get a little upset when I hear other parents who are against it totally, because they don't want 'Erie city kids,'" Genene Mattern, a mother whose kids attend a school in the surrounding area that would take in Erie students, told NPR. "Now you're almost trying to put a racial spin on it, and that to me is wrong."

She continued, "They're children. I don't care what color, what ethnic background, what social background, they deserve a chance."

Officials continue to explore their options moving forward, specifically exploring what a closure would look like. Officials say that closing schools could also benefit elementary school programs.

In fact, Badams' statement about the closure back in May said that shuttering the schools would save the district around $3 million that could be put into the pre-K system to "achieve equity with the rest of Erie County’s elementary schools."

The district's High School Closure Task Force will issue a report by Sept. 30 that details its recommendations moving forward.

"I'm really at the point of getting tired of going through this over and over again," Badams said of the ongoing budget warnings. "I get accused of being a Chicken Little. But it is more like I-told-you-so."

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