By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Pennsylvania board that oversees Philadelphia's troubled school system voted at a raucous meeting on Thursday to close 23 of the city's 247 schools to help solve a budget crunch.
The district, the nation's eighth largest with about 150,000 students, has experienced a reduction of about $400 million in state funding over the last two fiscal years.
Cries of "Shame on you" rang out at a packed meeting of the School Reform Commission as it voted, school-by-school, on a list of a proposed 27 closures.
"I will not lower the quality of my education," Totiana Myers, a student at Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia, told the panel as a crowd of several hundred parents, students and teachers cheered. "I am the future. It is time for the young people to stand up and care about the quality of our education."
Robeson High was among four schools that will remain open.
Police arrested 19 people, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for disorderly conduct because they were blocking entrances to the meeting room, Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan said.
If all 27 schools had been closed, the savings would have amounted to $24.5 million per year, school district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. There was no immediate estimate for the savings from Thursday's action.
The district has been scraping by after borrowing $300 million to pay its bills for this year, Gallard said. He also said Philadelphia is not alone in considering school closings. He said Chicago is weighing whether to close 70 to 80 schools.
In most cases, the board's decision was greeted with frustration. Several people spoke out in favor of saving Germantown High School, which serves a mostly working-class neighborhood, but the board voted to shut it down.
But a handful of those speaking out got what they asked for.
Jacqueline Pinkston, a teacher at the Bayard Taylor Elementary School, in North Philadelphia, raised safety issues, saying she was concerned about moving her students into a school with older kids and into a neighborhood she considers dangerous.
"I have numerous safety concerns about moving our smaller children into a school with middle school children the size of grown adults," she told the panel. "Not only is the school unsafe. But the area the school is located in is not safe either."
(Editing By Edith Honan and Stacey Joyce)