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Philadelphia plan would shut 37 schools

PHILADELPHIA — Facing deep financial problems, the Philadelphia school district has proposed an unprecedented downsizing that would close 37 schools — or roughly 1 in 6 of the city’s public schools by June.

If the sweeping plan is approved, the district says it will improve academic standards by diverting funds used for maintaining crumbling buildings to hiring teachers and improving classroom equipment.

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But the plan has ignited angry protests from teachers, students, and parents who argue that children, particularly in their elementary years, should not be forced to attend school outside their neighborhoods; that academic improvements will be disrupted; and that students attending new schools will be victimized because of longstanding rivalries between neighborhoods.

The proposed cuts are set to be voted on in March by the School Reform Commission, a state organization that oversees the district.

The 237-school district faces a cumulative $1.1 billion budget deficit over the next five years, following the loss of $419 million in state cuts to educational financing this year.

The district’s financial problems are compounded by the ending of federal stimulus funding and rising pension costs.

Even after borrowing $300 million to pay the bills for this academic year, the district faces a deficit of $27.6 million, a figure that officials say will rise sharply in coming years.

Its problems are worsened by having to maintain buildings that are drastically underused.

Among 195,000 student ‘‘seats,’’ 53,000 are empty, according to the district’s new superintendent, William Hite, who argues that the solution is to close the schools, sell their buildings, and transfer students into those that remain open.

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