In recent days, The Daily Pennsylvanian has featured more than one article and an editorial on the difficulty the University City New School has experienced in gathering funds needed to move to a new location on Baltimore Avenue and begin classes there this fall. On Monday night, the difficulty apparently became too great, and the New School's board reached a decision to close the school at the end of this academic year. This is an unfortunate outcome, and I would like to describe the steps the University took to try to avert it. Let me begin by confirming the most recent step, which has not been reported in the DP or other media. On Monday at noon, the University offered the New School a $75,000 low-interest loan to close the final gap on funds the school needed to renovate the Baltimore Avenue space. This offer came on top of a $200,000 grant Penn had already committed to the school this summer. From what I understand, the board rejected Penn's loan Monday night after concluding that it could not afford to take on any further debt. Again, from what I understand, the board made this decision in recognition of the fact that only 40-some students had signed up to attend the New School in the fall, and the school would need to enroll at least twice that many to make ends meet. What seems clear, in the end, is that the New School could not reach a point of operating stability in the absence of continued Penn funding. For two and a half years -- since the summer of 1998 -- the school has known that financial support from the University would stop at the end of this academic year, but it has not been able, in that time, to establish its foundation as a truly independent school. Let me briefly review some relevant history. The New School has always been quite small -- its annual enrollment has typically been well under 100 children, many of whom have not been University City residents. The school has faced continuing financial challenges, as a result. To address this problem, from 1995 through 1997, the school asked Penn on more than one occasion, to help with its conversion to a University-assisted, publicly funded school. In response to these requests, and motivated by our own belief that the University City community would benefit from stronger neighborhood schools that would serve larger numbers of local children, Penn reached a unique agreement in 1998 with the Philadelphia School District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to create a new pre-K-8 school. This Penn-assisted public school will open this fall and will feature small classes, state-of-the-art programs, a professional development center for teachers, substantial parent and community involvement and many other amenities. One of our explicit goals was to develop a new model that would feature the incorporation of the New School within the new, larger pre-K-8 school. We were pleased by the active participation of members of the New School community in the pre-K-8 school planning process, which led to an innovative education plan that includes many important features long championed by the school. Penn provided substantial and ongoing financial assistance to the New School in recent years. We eliminated hundreds of thousands of dollars in its rental payments; provided another $265,000 to pay for books, materials and financial aid for the children of Penn affiliates attending the school; covered the costs of setting up overflow New School classrooms in Penn's facility at 4200 Pine Street; and provided a wide range of educational supplies and transportation services. Early last year, the New School's Board decided to withdraw from the new pre-K-8 school partnership, and to move to a different location as a separate, independent school. We were very disappointed by this decision but did not interfere in it. In reaching the decision, the board was fully aware that the school would have to make it on its own -- the University said explicitly in June 1998 that if the school ultimately decided to pursue an independent path, then it would have to do so without financial support from Penn, given Penn's commitment to the new pre-K-8 school. Over the past several months, in a spirit of goodwill, Penn agreed to give the school a $200,000 grant and, ultimately, a $75,000 loan, to help defray the school's relocation costs. Unfortunately, even with these generous offers of assistance, the New School could not secure its future as an independent school, and so the board reached its decision Monday night.Comments powered by Disqus
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