PHILADELPHIA — Like many public schools here, University City High School is underused, underfinanced and underperforming.
Nearly 80 percent of its 11th-grade students read below grade level in statewide tests this year, while 85 percent failed to make the grade in math. Last year, about only a quarter of its students participated in precollege testing like the SAT.
Largely because of the lure of local charter schools, the school is one-quarter full, with fewer than 600 students for its nearly 2,200 seats. It needs major work on its infrastructure, including lighting and heating systems, that would cost an estimated $30 million.
Now, facing deep financial problems, the Philadelphia School District has proposed an unprecedented downsizing that would close 37 campuses by June — roughly one out of six public schools, including University City. If the sweeping plan is approved, the district says it will improve academic standards by diverting money used for maintaining crumbling buildings to hire teachers and improve classroom equipment.
The 237-school district faces a cumulative budget deficit of $1.1 billion over the next five years, after $419 million in state cuts to educational financing this year. The district’s problems are compounded by…