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Foundation to pay for District consultant

By Benjamin Herold on Feb 22, 2012 04:45 PM

by Benjamin Herold
for the Notebook/WHYY’s NewsWorks 

The William Penn Foundation will be picking up the $1.4 million tab for the five-week contract for an outside management consultant approved last week by the School Reform Commission. 

"This is a defining moment for our schools," said WPF President Jeremy Nowak in a statement. "To close the achievement gap for Philadelphia's students, we need to get as much of the District's funds into the classroom as possible. Moreover, we must be able to trust the financial projections and long term operations of the system."

The money will be used to pay the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to help the SRC and District leadership identify and implement millions of dollars in budget cuts this year, reorganize the District's central office, and come up with a plan to decentralize some District functions and give individual schools more decision-making power. The goal is to stabilize a District that has been teetering on the edge of financial collapse.

"This is a genuine crisis moment," said Nowak. "Our foundation cares about closing the achievement gap for low income children. We cannot do that if we do not have a functioning district.”

He said that WPF decided to help because of the scope of the District's need, the lack of viable alternatives, and to avoid a potential backlash over the possibility of the District shelling out millions in public dollars to pay for consultants while simultaneously cutting school nurses, police officers, and other school essentials.

"We don't see money coming in from the public sector," said Nowak.

He described BCG as a "world-class" consulting firm with extensive experience working with troubled school systems. He said it will examine “every academic and non-academic practice and built an analysis of the current state and options (including cost-savings options) for the future."

"We have tough decisions to make in order to save the District," he said. "We don't have much time."

In January, the SRC said that unless $61 million in cuts were identified by June, the District would not be able to meet payroll. Earlier this month, the District announced that the gap had actually risen to $71 million and that $39 million of those cuts remained to be identified.  

The District must also develop its budget for next year; the SRC is already projecting a shortfall of $269 million that will require further belt-tightening.

Nowak said that WPF will be helping the SRC to identify additional sources of funding, including other philanthropies, and that he intends to have some say in the organizational restructuring that BCG will be leading.

"I intend to stay actively involved to ensure that we get the value we are all paying for," said Nowak.

Mayor Nutter and SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos praised the move in a statement.

"The William Penn Foundation has always been here for the city of Philadelphia and its children; there is no stronger advocate for reform and transparency," said the mayor.

William Penn has historically funded a wide range of organizations involved in education reform in the region, including the Notebook. Most of these organizations work from the outside to improve schools and change the District.

The details of how the money will be transmitted to the District are still to be worked out. The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania is expected to be involved as a third-party to facilitate the transfer of funds.

Disclosure: The William Penn Foundation is a major funder of the Notebook.

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Comments (16)

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on February 22, 2012 6:20 pm

According to the Inquirer, Nowak headed Mastery Charter's Board for 7 years. Now, he wants to have a say over the entire SDP. Isn't this a conflict of interest? Will this become "The School District of Mastery?"

Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on February 22, 2012 10:00 pm

Good point re: conflict of interest.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 23, 2012 1:15 am

It might be a conflict of interest if Nowak was on the SRC. But there is nothing that says those who give the money can't have conflict of interests. It would have to be someone making the decision that has the conflict of interest.

Submitted by Concerned Philadelphian (not verified) on February 23, 2012 5:21 am

My concern is Nowak, in the Inquirer article, states he will make his opinion known and try to influence decisions. He claims to be "loud," among other things, and if read between the lines, the money from the William Penn Foundation comes with strings attached. Apparently, Nowak is pulling the strings.

While Mastery has improved PSSA scores, what else has it done? Their curriculum is designed to boost test scores on one standardized test. Our students deserve more than test prep.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 23, 2012 1:03 pm

Of course!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 23, 2012 10:27 pm

What else has Mastery done? Let's just start by saying that Mastery has provided more options for its students in that at least 90% of all of Mastery's graduating classes have gone on to college, which i think is much better than most, not all, schools in the district. I am proud to say that I am parent of 2 children who attend Mastery Charter and 1 who has already graduated from one of the schools. I am not sure if any of my kids would have been given the same quality education if they stayed in their neighborhood school.

Submitted by MCHS Teacher (not verified) on February 23, 2012 11:00 pm

I am not sure where you are getting your information from, but most of Mastery's curriculum is designed to go above and beyond the expectations of a standardized test. If you are interested in Mastery's curriculum, because you have doubts about what I am saying, you should contact one of the Directors of Curriculum at Mastery, who would probably be more than happy to show you some of the curriculum.

Submitted by tom-104 on February 22, 2012 10:16 pm

Close 440 N. Broad. At the last SRC it was stated that it is 30% under utilized. The school administration should be located in one of the school buildings that has closed. What is happening to the former William Penn High School building?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 27, 2012 10:40 pm

A very good point. It is time for the School District to learn how not to waist the taxpayers' money.

Submitted by account receivable factoring (not verified) on February 22, 2012 11:45 pm

great post. nice share. i really enjoyed reading it.

Submitted by R. U. Kidding (not verified) on February 24, 2012 4:07 am

On Feb 22nd this blurb was part of an article in The Notebook: The School Reform Commission also recently decided to withhold a scheduled 3 percent raise due the blue-collar workers, a move that saved $1.4 million but provoked a massive turnout of District 1201 members at the SRC's January 19 meeting.

Now they are spending $1.5 million on a consulting firm to figure out how to save money....Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?

Gee I wonder who will be getting the contract?

Submitted by R. U. Kidding (not verified) on February 24, 2012 4:29 am

Please stop spending money on consultants and ask the people who are doing the work every day, what works and what does not. Surely, with all of the highly educated employees, there must be some people who are in the system who know how things (really) work and can save money. Experianced, caring employees are an asset and should be listened to.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 24, 2012 9:44 pm

ridiculous! spending soooo much money to find savings??

Submitted by catalina (not verified) on June 6, 2014 6:36 am
This is a step in the right direction. Every dollar counts right now. As they said, there are a lot of gaps to close. jocuri barbie
Submitted by ielts review center in Cebu (not verified) on August 3, 2014 8:54 pm

ielts review center in Cebu provide coaching support of IELTS test takers for both local and foreign since in 2010. It has a proven credible and reliable institution that have been awarded in 2011 and rank number 4 on ielts review center in Cebu

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 2, 2014 11:59 pm

They raise their own budgets, to next year, when an estimated will exceed $ 269 million shortfall, which may require further austerity open cloud .WPF will help SRC to find sources of funding, such as charities. senior sessions

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