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Key data for school closings released

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Finally, we have some official numbers from the District about individual school facilities.

The District made public on its website a long-awaited document that lists information about each school building, including the facility condition index (FCI), utilization relative to capacity, and academic rankings on its school performance index.

These will be perhaps the three key indicators used in decisions about school closings as the District moves forward with its three-year facilities master plan, which it has said will involve the shutdown of up to 50 District buildings.

To increase basic building utilization from 67 percent now to the accepted ideal of 85 percent, the District is undertaking what it described in its PowerPoint presentation as a “three-year process of building and annex closures, termination of leases, and sale of empty buildings.”

Reading the document

The data were compiled by the engineering and design firm URS Corporation, which is under contract with the District.

A building’s FCI is the ratio of the cost of needed repairs to the replacement cost. Buildings with an FCI at 66 percent trigger concerns about whether repair costs are worth it, according to Dejong-Richter CEO Tracy Richter, a subcontractor of URS on the project. According to spokesperson Elizabeth Childs, the District will be using a higher benchmark of 75 percent in determining which buildings have a "high" FCI.

The “utilization” figure refers to the percent of a school’s capacity that is in use. Richter said that an ideal capacity use for a school is 85 percent, while anything between 75 and 100 percent is considered "in-range." The District’s average is 67.

For the school performance index (SPI), schools are scored based on academic performance. The highest-performing schools are scored as a 1, and the lowest-performing schools are scored as a 10. A number of buildings are listed with no SPI or an SPI of 0; this indicates that a building is either a charter or non-traditional school, that it has no current performance data, or that it is closed.

The dollar-value assessment of each building is also included in the document, along with the estimated cost to renovate the school and the estimated cost to replace the school, the basis for the FCI.

Targets for closing?

Only one high school has an FCI of 75 percent or higher: Stephen A. Douglas. The school is also underutilized, at just 70.63 percent, and it has a poor academic ranking, with an SPI of 8.

Other low-performing schools with high FCIs (over 75 percent) and low utilization include William Harrison, Jay Cooke, Laura W. Waring, and Charles R. Drew (all elementary schools). Daniel Boone has a high SPI and low utilization, but doesn’t have a performance index because it is a remedial discipline school.

Three other schools – Fox Chase and Thomas Holme elementary schools and Wagner Middle School – have high FCIs and low utilization, but are less likely to be targeted for closure because they are high-performing academically.

The District has said there will be no school closings this year, but immediate actions in the facilities master plan include closing annexes, renovations, and consolidating a few schools.

Bridesburg Elementary School is slated to be renovated because it is overcrowded and has a high FCI of 87 percent, according to last week’s District presentation of the facilities master plan. The document the District released however, lists Bridesburg as having an FCI of 38.5 percent.

Childs said that the presentation was in error, but that plans to renovate and put an addition onto the school would proceed because “the school is severely overcrowded and there are no neighboring schools with space.”

As for other possible errors, she said, “we’re confident about the numbers included in the data chart, but will continue to double-check as these numbers are used in other documents.”

Editor’s note:

In March, the Notebook published an earlier draft version of the data compiled by URS in January that had been obtained from a District source. Though the District called it “irresponsible” to publish an “incomplete” draft, the Notebook considered it important to provide the public as early as possible as much information that would influence future school closings, consolidations, or co-locations.

While the facilities condition and utilization numbers differ somewhat in this updated document, in most cases the relative positions of schools on those indicators did not change substantially.

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