We all recognize the importance of Girard College, an institution that has changed the lives of more than 22,000 young women and men during its 165-year history as a boarding school for children in need.
Girard’s mission is critically important, no less so during these troubled economic times. But the worst recession since the Great Depression has significantly impacted the Girard Estate and Girard College. While the Board of City Trusts has committed that the school will neither close nor move from its historic location in North Philadelphia, the reality is that Girard must make changes that will impact its current operations.
This page will keep you fully informed about the process that will drive change at Girard, a process that already has included two letters from Board President Ron Donatucci to the entire Girard community discussing the process, a public meeting led by members of the Board of City Trusts, the Girard Board of Managers, the Girard Estate, and President Clarence D. Armbrister, and numerous other meetings with various Girard stakeholders. These communications and meetings will continue, and as part of the commitment to be as transparent as possible about the issues that confront us, we are today unveiling Girard Future, a page on our web site at www.girardcollege.edu.
We invite you to check this site regularly for new information, notices on upcoming meetings, or just to learn more about the events and decisions that will shape Girard’s future.
We all share an interest in the future of the school that means so much to Philadelphia, and we encourage your participation in the process as we move ahead. We look forward to hearing from you.
LINKS ON THIS SITE
You will find links to the following items:
Blog (Joseph DiStefano, February 28, 2013) on Philly.com
Summary of the public Stakeholders meeting held on December 13, 2012, attended by nearly 200 different members of the Girard community, to provide an update on the challenges facing Girard;
PowerPoint presentation of Girard Estate finances;
Letter from BODCT President Ron Donatucci February 2013;
Letter from BODCT President Ron Donatucci, November 9, 2012;
Letter from BODCT President Ron Donatucci, May 8, 2012;
Story from The Philadelphia Inquirer about the school’s future, “Girard College’s controlling board looks for ways to save the school,” November 13, 2012;
Story from The Inquirer about the critically important litigation, currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, involving Girard’s tax status, together with a link to the opinion of the lower court in that case.
Here is a brief sampling of Frequently Asked Questions together with responses from the committee:
Q: The Trust appears to be recovering, so why do we need to shrink the school? Certainly, the Trust is doing better now than four years ago. Why can't we stay the way we are?
A: There are several reasons why Girard must act now to preserve the viability of the Trust for generations to come. First and foremost, we have been living beyond our means for several years, as the Board of City Trusts struggled to maintain a level of funding for the school despite the catastrophic impact of the economic recession. We have gradually reduced spending by reducing the number of students and the corresponding number of staff and employees to care for them. The reality is that the Trust needs a significant period of time to recover fully, and at the same time, the school will require major capital funding (to cover necessary infrastructure upgrades) if we are to build and support a 21st education program for our students.
Q: We hear repeatedly that Girard's union contracts are an obstacle to the school’s long term success. Can you explain what impact the labor situation has on the decisions you'll make going forward?
A: There is no question that our employee costs continue to rise even as we reduce the number of people we employ. Benefit costs per employee (including health care, pension and deferred compensation obligations) have risen more than 60 percent over the last five years, and it is a situation that must be remedied going forward. It’s not fair for anyone to blame the unions for Girard’s problems, but there is no question that all of us must work together to structure labor agreements that best serve the needs of our students in the years to come.
Q: You say that the decisions you're considering are not permanent in nature. Do you ever plan to grow the school back to its current size or grades?
A: Our current situation is one that’s been described as one where we’re a mile wide and an inch deep; that is, Girard is attempting to provide an educational program that is significantly beyond its means at the moment. To keep Girard on a course for long-term growth – to keep Girard alive and thriving for another 160 years – we have to pull back, focus on what we want to be and how best to deliver those services, and slowly grow back to serving more students in a larger educational model.
The Committee has always understood that its direction from the Board of City Trusts is to offer recommendations that are transitional in nature, with the expectation that Girard would grow back once its finances allow. No one is talking about these being permanent recommendations, to our knowledge.
Q: Can you make public the FSG report and the full facilities assessment? If not, why not?
A: These documents were prepared with the knowledge that the results were confidential in nature. They offer analyses of a variety of scenarios, many of which are hypothetical or purely for discussion purposes only. In our view, making these scenarios public would likely trigger all sorts of misinformation and rumor that would be counterproductive to the process.
That said, we will continue to keep you informed about all of the relevant scenarios we discuss and the recommendations we intend to make. And we welcome your questions throughout the process.
Q: Why are we now moving so fast? This situation has been months, even years in the making, yet now we're being told that we must have a decision on Girard's future within the next few months. Aren’t we rushing to judgment?
A: It is true that Girard’s challenges have been years in the making. It is also true, however, that the effort to address these problems has been going on for nearly 18 months, including the FSG study and the facilities assessment. Our timing also is impacted by the impending Middle States accreditation process. Our recommendations are an important part of the accreditation process, and they must be submitted in time to provide the Middle States team an opportunity to review and assess their impact on Girard’s future. The schedule we are following is designed especially for that purpose.
YOUR SUGGESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Please e-mail us with your thoughts/suggestions. We look forward to working with you on behalf of Girard.
The following is a sampling of suggestions we have received to date. We appreciate your time and we offer the following responses:
- If Girard is going to change from a first-grade through twelfth-grade institution into either a middle and high school or an elementary and middle school, I would favor the latter. The principal reason for my feeling that way is that I have far more confidence (and will until I see contradictory empirical evidence) that a first-rate lower grades education, particularly in a seven-day-a-week structured environment like the one my classmates and I experienced, is far more likely to lead to long-range academic and career success than a first-rate higher grades education. If Girard could return to its glory days of yesteryear with respect to grades one through eight, and if it could establish near-obligatory agreements with high quality prep schools throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions to accept one or more Girard students, tuition-free, each year, I believe that the outcomes for those students would be salutary. If, instead, Girard becomes a high school, even if it accepts students from the best charter schools, many of those students will enter with nutrition deficits, motivation deficits, family environment deficits, and even learning deficits that even the most dedicated and most gifted teachers will not be able to overcome. And I’m a big believer in a dynamic that, unfortunately, a small group usually operates at the speed of and with the attitude of its least productive members.
- I am not an economist and have not studied the matter carefully, but my instincts tell me that in the lower grades, more could be done with less. Even assuming higher student-to-staff ratios for younger students, I think younger students could be educated at lower cost: lower food costs, lower insurance costs, lower costs for ancillary activities like class trips, band, theater, and athletic teams, lower book costs.
- I would shrink the campus. Build a north-to-south wall just west of the chapel and the large white building that served as the middle school in the fifties. Sell the land west of the wall either before or after demolition. Or enter a joint venture with a developer for that land. Spice up the southwest entrance and you have the potential for a gated and walled high-end townhouse or garden apartment complex in the “heart of center city” with abundant parking.
- Tear down the chapel. Replace it with a state-of-the-art recreation and fitness center. Maybe you could even sell off-peak memberships to the people in the gated community next door.
Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions.
- Balance the diversity of the student body to match the outside world so that Girard College will not be perceived as only supporting one segment of the population.
Girard continues to consider and admit a diverse array of students from single-parent families of limited means who meet the admission requirements.
- Start an “adopt a student” program to provide emotional support for current students.
Mentoring programs of this type exist to some extent already (Alpha Boule/Archousai, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Duke of Edinborough Award Program, ING Financial Literacy, Star Finders Tennis Partners), but the idea of creating new ties between alums and students is a good one and will be referred by President Armbrister for future action.
- Collect and share more data before making any decisions.
- Provide more positive information to earn financial support; the report from the board was too negative.
The Stakeholders meeting held on December 13, 2012 provided an unprecedented level of detail about the financial condition of the Girard Estate. It was presented to provide a clearer picture of the facts, so that all members of the Girard community can better understand the challenges that Girard faces. As Girard moves forward to address the programmatic and financial challenges it faces, we will continue to provide as much information as possible about the basis for the decisions that will be made.
- Change Girard College into a day school.
- Require financial support from the parents and guardians: this might include social security, welfare, food stamps, and VA benefits.
- Initiate work-study programs. If the students are paid a fair but modest wage, then the school could eliminate some of the higher paid union jobs.
- Enroll students who can pay tuition to a total of 50% of the student population.
- Qualify Girard College as a charter school to get funds from the state.
- Close the school, sell the property, and funnel that money into the Girard Estate. Then use the interest from this much larger estate fund as scholarships to send students to other prep schools.
- Sell the school to the Catholic Church to run.
- Create a partnership with the Hershey School for financial support.
- Apply for a $100 million loan from the Bill Gates Foundation.
- Girard College should be on the list of charities that benefit from the United Way.
The Strategic Plan Steering Committee is engaged in a comprehensive effort to develop recommendations to guide a top-quality educational program for the future while simultaneously addressing the difficult financial and infrastructure challenges that Girard faces. To that end, the Board of City Trusts has authorized the retention of independent experts to review the programmatic and physical plant issues that are central to decisions about Girard’s future, and that work is ongoing.
As part of this work, the Steering Committee will consider the suggestions submitted above, though we point out that several of these suggestions – especially those that propose charging tuition, appropriating Social Security or other public funds from parents/guardians, or seek a partnership with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia or other similarly-situated institutions – raise a host of legal issues that would make them difficult to implement.
Finally, we note again that the Board of City Trusts has made clear that it will neither close Girard College nor move the school from its historic North Philadelphia campus.