Testimony of Karel Kilimnik to the Board of Education, August 15, 2019

Good evening. Selling Whittier School reflects the disturbing track record of  the District in ignoring communities proposed uses for vacant school buildings. The public has been kept in the dark about plans for selling off vacant buildings until an action item pops up.The Board needs to take a different approach than the SRC and stop turning buildings over to charter schools and developers.The Board has stated its commitment to community involvement.  It’s time for action not just words.

In 2013 we lost 24 schools disrupting neighborhoods and stranding students, many with families attending the neighborhood school for generations.  Whittier School was one. A local church involved with the school proposed using the empty building for subsidized housing. The minister lined up financing and toured the building with potential investors, but was turned down by the District with no explanation. Subsequently the school building remained vacant until now when a developer is set to purchase the property and develop it for a KIPP charter school.

In 2013, the District closed Smith School in the rapidly gentrifying Point Breeze area. Many of the same community members who fought to keep Smith open formed the Save Smith School Committee to stop the sale of the building. They presented a demographic projection showing the need for an elementary school in their neighborhood as more young families move into Point Breeze. They used that information to try to stop the District from selling the building to a developer. Their long legal battle was lost when a judge ruled in favor of the district, thus enabling an out-of-state real estate investor to purchase the building, who quickly flipped the property to a local developer of high-priced housing.  The former schoolyard now consists of luxury townhouses while Schools in South Philadelphia are bursting at the seams.

The SRC approved the sale of the Beeber Wynnefield Annex. Neighbors had attempted to buy the building to convert it to a community center when the district closed it in 2002, but the District’s asking price of $300,000 was beyond their means. The building stood as an eyesore for almost twenty years, when IronStone Capital Partners bought it for $140,000.

Closing schools strips an anchor institution from neighborhoods. Selling them to developers and investors undermines the viability of communities. The SRC did not listen to stakeholders. We are looking to the Board to set a different direction and actually listen to community members before approving the District’s request to sell school buildings. Vote no on Item 65.