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Ethics complaint questions legitimacy of BCG reform plan, school closures

By thenotebook on Dec 6, 2012 02:06 PM
Photo: Bill Hangley, Jr.

J. Whyatt Mondesire, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, explains the group's ethics complaint against the William Penn Foundation and the Boston Consulting Group.

by Bill Hangley, Jr.

With the shadow of dozens of possible school closures looming in the background, a group of public school advocates has formally filed an ethics complaint challenging the legitimacy of the dramatic reform plan developed for the School District of Philadelphia by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the William Penn Foundation.

The complaint was filed Wednesday with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics by members of Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Home and School Council, and the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP.

The group alleges that because the William Penn Foundation contracted privately with BCG to develop a reform plan for the District, the two private organizations were effectively lobbying the District, and should have formally registered with the city as a principal and lobbyist, respectively.

By not doing so, BCG and William Penn were able to skirt disclosure requirements that would have required them to share numerous details about BCG’s work, including the identities of the donors who paid for it, the complaint’s supporters said.

“That’s one of the very things that the lobbying law was enacted to overcome – so that you would know who was trying to influence policy,” said Michael Churchill, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, whose analysis of the BCG/William Penn arrangement prompted the complaint.

“We believe that under the Philadelphia [lobbying] ordinance, they were required to register and file all the disclosure forms that go with being a lobbyist.”

The BCG plan, unveiled last spring, was funded in part by private donations solicited by William Penn. It called for the expansion of charter schools, the transformation of the District into a group of semi-independent “achievement networks” managed largely by outside contractors, and the closure of as many as 60 traditional public schools.

The District hasn’t formally embraced all elements of the BCG proposal. Superintendent William Hite is developing his own long-term plans. District officials are believed to be on the verge of releasing a lengthy list of school-closure candidates.

“In less than 10 days, some 50 to 60 schools will be announced to be closed, and we don’t know what the real agenda was, how these schools came to be on this target list, and whose interests will be served,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP.

“We want total transparency, and we believe that public hearings before the ethics board would give the public a true picture of the big money involved in changing, restructuring and … destroying public education as we’ve come to know it.”

If the Board of Ethics determines that the complaint has merit, public hearings will follow.

“The [board’s] executive director has to review it to see if it complies with requirements, [such as] whether or not it states a potential violation of a law that we have jurisdiction over. If it does, we accept the complaint,” said Michael Cooke, the board’s director of enforcement.

“If it doesn’t, we reject it.”

Cooke said he couldn’t provide any timetable for how quickly the complaint would be reviewed.

District officials have denied any improper behavior. They insist that they weren’t lobbied by BCG, but instead were in charge of the process every step of the way, despite not being formal parties to the BCG-William Penn contract.

“The District was the only entity involved in defining the scope of work done under the contract, and the District is and will continue to be the only entity that decides which recommendations and best practices identified by BCG will be implemented in our schools,” said District spokesperson Fernando Gallard in a statement.

Officials at William Penn and BCG have also said that they did nothing wrong and that the complaint has no merit.

But Churchill said that if William Penn wanted to formally put the District in charge, it could have easily done so, instead of striking a private deal with BCG.

“The William Penn Foundation could have given a grant to the School District, so the School District could go hire consultants [like BCG]. They didn’t do that,” Churchill said.

“The price of keeping that kind of control and not giving it to the District is that you are supporting lobbying. You’re trying to get your views put into the mix. … You’ve converted yourself from making grants to the School District as a philanthropist, to supporting a lobbying process.”

Parents United's Helen Gym echoed the point. “We wouldn’t be here if there was a contract between the School District of Philadelphia and the Boston Consulting Group,” she said.

“We’re here because they decided to do something dramatically different, to ensure that the public would not have much insight into what was going on.”

The complaint notes that in early 2012, the District did, in fact, contract directly with BCG for the first phase of planning, but adds that “for all BCG work beyond Phase I, the William Penn Foundation was in control and responsible for payments … the District did not pay for nor control the work of BCG for Phase II or Phase III.”

Parents United members acknowledged that part of their goal with the complaint is to lay the groundwork for possible opposition to a school-closure process that could well be unlike anything Philadelphia has ever seen, in terms of scope and speed.

“The SRC has passed a new rule that they can expedite closing of schools faster than any time before,” said Parents United’s Gerald Wright.

“When that [closure] list is introduced, they can close those schools very quickly, without any public input. … We’re behind the eight ball.”

However, Churchill said that even if the Board of Ethics finds that the complaint has merit and holds hearings on the matter, that won’t necessarily affect the District’s ability to move ahead with its plans.

“I don’t believe [the Board of Ethics] have any power over the substantive processes the District is going through,” he said.

Gym said that if nothing else, the complaint could serve as a wake-up call that discourages the District from striking similar deals in the future.

“We have to have an independent agency take a look at this in a very determined way and make a decision about whether our school district is going to be operated by and for private interests over public,” she said.

“Our best-case scenario is that a message is sent. … We need the ethics board to make that call for us right now.”


Disclosure: The William Penn Foundation is a major funder of the Notebook. Helen Gym is a Notebook leadership board member, but does not speak for or represent the Notebook on this issue.

 

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Comments (39)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 3:16 pm
What a regrettable waste of time, energy, and resources. But I guess that's to be expected from Helen, the Ann Coulter of Philadelphia's education scene -- more interested in the divisive vilification of those with whom she disagrees than rolling up sleeves and working together on areas of shared interest. A pity. Imagine if instead of simplifying this into being about good guys and bad guys or phony accusations of privatization and profiteering, it was about having different perspectives on how to achieve the same goal. This kind of tomfoolery does absolutely positively nothing to advance the cause for children.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on December 6, 2012 3:47 pm
Yes. Wouldn't it be regrettable if Philadelphia had even more Helen Gyms- loaded with tomfoolery, doing nothing day in and day out for children, time wasters, phonies. A pity. I wish she would roll up her sleeves once in a while. You have got to be kidding. Helen is the parent of Philadelphia public school students. Started a charter of her own(before the days of corporate charters). She is a tireless advocate for all our children. Helen speaks passionately and articulately with grace. You do protest too much. Helen Gym, I cannot thank you enough for your efforts on behalf of our children. I am trying to keep the tenor of this conversation civil, but the tone of the above remark has pushed me beyond my limit.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 4:09 pm
Exactly!
Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on December 6, 2012 4:59 pm
Thank you Eileen Duffy, couldn't have said it better. This isn't just about Helen Gym anyway --
Submitted by Ken Derstine on December 6, 2012 7:03 pm
Someone has to tell the world that the emperor has no clothes! That person right now in the School District of Philadelphia is Helen Gym. I wish we had one hundred more parents like her! Just look at the picture in the article immediately below this article where the announcement was made about the money Gates is giving to the District to advance the corporate reform agenda. The majority of the people in this picture who are overseeing the dismantling of the School District are not from Philadelphia. They are business people with no experience in the classroom or degrees in education or child development. All they are concerned about is business. Their involvement in the District is just a step on their career path. They will collect their six figure salaries for a few years, doing the bidding of their corporate reform overlords, and then move on. We will be left to pick of the pieces with a school system segregated by family income and thousands of children being left behind in inferior schools. If these corporate reformers were really concerned about public schools they would be getting their political servants to fix the schools, not dismantle them. This whole corporate reform of education is a way for bankers and hedge fund managers to reap quick profits the way they did in the housing market five years ago. It is being done at great expense to public schools which have been underfunded for decades. It is also a convenient way to get people take their eyes off of the politicians who are the guilty party in the underfunding of the public schools and all of its consequences.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 6, 2012 8:09 pm
And 99% of it is being foisted on the most vulnerable among us, those who can't defend themselves. Like stealing from the poor box at church and then decrying the evils of mankind.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on December 9, 2012 11:09 am
This discussion with Diane Ravitch on the Smiley & West program shows that what we are dealing with is a national, not just a Philadelphia, crisis. http://www.smileyandwest.com/this-weeks-show/the-conversation-diane-ravi...
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 9, 2012 1:58 pm
Yes, Cornell West has been speaking about this general topic for 3 years now at the least. The elections of 2010 gave these cretins a green light to attack the inner city ed. systems with the slumlord mentality.
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on December 7, 2012 6:03 am
Pray tell - what have you done to ensure equity and a good quality education for our children in the School District??? Perhaps you should read the Lobbying Code adopted by the City. Why is Jeremy Nowak gone from William Penn? Parents and Community have been left out of the process and an outside consultant group was given the say so in our children's education process. If all parents, community members and stakeholders are brought together, they may have valid ideas to contribute to the School District and the State and Mayor appointed SRC. Yes I know the SRC volunteers, but I am sure there are certain fringe benefits. I thought they were going to try to be more transparent and be a "new SRC", but I don't see it. Instead of criticizing, why don't you try rolling up your sleeves and helping? Walk the Talk!
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on December 9, 2012 10:18 am
You know you really discredit yourself when you start focusing on the speaker rather than what the speaker says. It really doesn't matter who Helen is, because what she says has credence, and that is what we should be talking about. Yes, that does also apply to talk of conspiracy theories, where we imagine the worst motivations we can. This however, is not the foundation of the complaint, which is lack of disclosure. The fear is of a "conspiracy", which can be/could have been, best dispelled by full disclosure.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 5:35 pm
Thank you, Helen!
Submitted by Rob (not verified) on December 6, 2012 6:58 pm
Let's think who profits figuratively and literally from closing schools? Let the list begin...
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 6, 2012 6:19 pm
Exactly-----The rich get richer at the expense of the poor. What else is new !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2012 1:21 am
Lol. You need some new rhetoric. At least throw in an obligatory mention of the 1%. The idea that the PSD has been serving poor people well is laughable.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on December 9, 2012 9:29 am
I never said that. I even said the playing field was uneven NOW. The problem will only become far worse if the charter scam is allowed to continue. I don't need a new narrative in my opinion but I'm sorry if it bores you. I'll try harder.
Submitted by WeareAnonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 8:37 pm
Helen Gym, and the NAACP are acting with courage against injustice. The William Penn foundation, is not above the law even though they have the purse strings. As for the Ann Coulter comment, methinks you best try again. Helen rolls up her sleeve for sure, but the bigger issue hear is IMAGINE how much more work we all could get done, if the district gave us unfettered access to documents, budgets, and staff members. I'd like to that PCAPS would have a much easier job if they were given the royal treatment. Unfortunately, this is about the power of money--and in Helen and Jerry's case, speaking truth to power. The district should learn it's lesson---who'd ever think the city's new lobbying law would have such a solid role in this thing? Good Job to Helen. Good Job to PCAPS. Let's protest all over 440 and let's go after PSP next--they're playing with fire.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 6, 2012 10:20 pm
Helen-You are always amazing and hit exactly the right notes, stay strong and please keep fighting the good fight! But I think in this instance there is a huge debt of gratitude to "Michael Churchill, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, whose analysis of the BCG/William Penn arrangement prompted the complaint." Mr. Churchill, I salute you! Your analysis and argument sheds much needed light on the public rights that Helen Gym, NAACP, PFT, CASA, ACLU and ALL OF US need to defend. THANK YOU!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 5:55 am
who is Helen gym and what is her financial stake in this battle? she is always available, day and night, for every random protest or press conference; she gets her kids an incredible amount of school choice, but impedes low income parents Tom doing the same; she advocates the pft agenda, but she doesn't teach; she mugged for the tv cameras in the highly visible south philly hs violence, but has since been mum on the pervasive issue of violence across the district. is ms. gym a paid employee of one or more organizations or is you independently wealthy with loads of time on her hands. as a frequent observer of her antics, and because her relationship with this paper is so insestuous, can someone please,for the sake of full disclosure, please clear up this matter?
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 6:55 am
A more interesting question- Who are you? Are you being paid to tear down the name of Helen Gym? Your attempts to do so will be futile. She is a parent, a remarkable citizen who has earned the respect of education advocates throughout the city. On another note, your grammar is highly suspect. Looks like a poor attempt on the part of a 1% type to sound like you are a parent. Pitiful. You fool no one. It would be interesting to know your financial stakes in this discussion- or dare I say, in this battle.
Submitted by Helen Gym on December 7, 2012 7:00 am

If you want to learn more about this issue and why Parents United chose to take this action, read about it at this link. You can read about Parents United here, or contact the Home and School and NAACP. We all signed onto the complaint. You can also contact PILCOP to better understand the legal argument. If you have questions about the Notebook, read about its mission here.  If you have a question about me personally, leave a message for me at 215-925-1538. I'll talk with you in person to clear up this "matter."

Otherwise it sounds like your purpose is to just stalk message boards and air personal grievances that have nothing to do with the issue at hand - all signed "anonymous." At least I sign and stand by every one of my actions. Do you?

Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on December 12, 2012 11:28 pm
Right on Helen! Kudos to Parents United, Philadelphia Home and School Council, and the NAACP for filing the complaint. Someone needs to speak out and question for the kids.
Submitted by Paul Socolar on December 7, 2012 11:00 am

The Notebook is a mission-driven publication and we do have members of our leadership board who are involved in a variety of ways in education issues.

What board members like Helen Gym all share is a commitment to the Notebook's mission of quality and equity in public education, and to ensuring that grassroots stakeholders in the system are informed and have a voice. The leadership board oversees the organization's mission and plans, supervises the director, oversee the finances, fundraises for the organization, etc. They do not direct the content of the Notebook. They are not employees of the Notebook. In their other professional and volunteer work, board members do not speak for the Notebook. Board members may contribute commentary to the Notebook - Helen does write an occasional online column. All of our columnists are held to journalistic standards in their columns. Helen herself is a former journalist and served as editor of the Notebook from 1997 to 1999, subsequently joining the board.

Editorial control at the Notebook rests with the staff - it is our job as editors to ensure that the news is being covered fairly and accurately. The staff gets advice on our print publication from a volunteer editorial advisory board, but ultimate responsibility and decision-making rests with the staff.

 

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2012 12:00 pm
Please clear up your own posts by using some punctuation. Helen did teach for four years in Philly. Since the victims in the South Philly racist attacks were Asian is it really that much of a surprise she showed up to speak about it. She has talked about violence elsewhere and at other times. Few of the administrators or outsider organizations have kids in Philly or teach in the district themselves. Do you get bent out of shape about those folk who are setting policy for the district?
Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 7, 2013 9:20 am
Seriously, Mr. Anonymous. You are circumspect yourself in more ways than one...And as the only voice of dissent on here, you only add credence to Mrs. Gym's charges that something corrupt and fishy is going on in our City's leadership.
Submitted by Taxpaying parent (not verified) on December 7, 2012 6:20 am
Ha! You act like the "pft agenda" is not aligned with that of parents in this district. Look at Penn Alexander... Small class sizes, plenty of support and resources for teachers and kids. Isn't that the pft agenda? Oh, and it's what I as a parent want for my kids. Thank you, Helen Gym!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 7:44 am
Last time I looked penn Alexander was about 42% economically disadvantaged. You district folks are always saying that poverty is the biggest impediment to school success. Don't brag about a school that has half the poor child the other schools have. Lea is only blocks away and it has over 90% economically disadvantaged. Every charter school in west philly is 75 or above. You know you're comparing apples and bowling balls. and if its so good, why haven't they replicated it. Simple answer, you can't. The next bunch of kids won't fit the socio economic parameters they need for success. Go to hardy Williams, global leadership, or harambee is you want to see an enrollment more reflective of west Philly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 7:31 am
I'm a charter supporter who is very clear who pays my salary in a public forum. maybe ms. gym has done so before,but I've not heard it. i'm curious. she's not the holy mother of god, so we can question her motives. you were quick to question mine. when a vocal, opinionated advocate sits on the board of an independent news organization who covers the industry she lobby's, that's a close relationship. there not a pro-school choice blogger locally nor connection to national blog supporting that opinion. I don't believe the notebook intends to be one-sided. I just want to point out that the stories and conversations tend to lean one way. it may be because those in close proximity are all of one thought. there are other opinions.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on December 7, 2012 2:47 pm
We could trust you more if you used your real name. What are you afraid of?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 10:41 am
THIS: http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20121207_DN_Editorial__A_CIVICS_LES... ...why this spurious and ill-conceived PR stunt could actually hurt Philadelphia schools
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on December 12, 2012 11:17 pm
Ahhh! You really think that this will scare away the money? Please don't be so naive. They are in it for the money and I believe it will take more than this to scare them away. Please, in place of criticizing people standing up for children and their rights, research and learn what is happening throughout the country not only here in Philadelphia. It is harmful when we become isolationists. If you are a charter school supporter, do you truly know what tests scores are in these charters. I would like to know as a taxpayer, but that became difficult when the Pro-charter and voucher Governor Corbett and his State Education Secretary Tomalis tried to conceal the true scores by allowing a different standard for the charter schools. It is all publicly funded money so we have the right to know. We also have the right to know who the donors are. Why are they hiding? If you believe in a cause then don't hide! I have a problem when people try to hide their names. Why? What is their reason? Charter Schools are suppose to choose children by a lottery. Read the Notebooks Article concerning the lotteries. Again, instead of condemning try to do some research and then speak out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 11:27 am
Yes, Helen has nothing to say about violence. That's why the students who were being attacked and assaulted on a regular basis at South Philly High asked for her help. She not only helped to resolve the situation, she had to withstand the disgraceful comments and actions by Ackerman. Yes, Helen cares about the education of her children and all children in Philadelphia. That's a bad thing? Wake up. Public education is being dismantled by very rich corporate interests across the country. For every one person who resents her for exercising her right to free speech, there are hundreds who support her and are grateful for her selfless and courageous actions. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 7, 2012 11:39 am
BTW, the man in the picture is Jerry Mondesire, head of the Philadelphia NAACP. I assume readers here are aware of that organization's history of civic action. Mr. Mondesire does not take part in "stunts". Lisa Haver
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2012 1:28 am
He's just showing up for his share of the shakedown money he expects William Penn to pay. Not a stunt, just classic Philly political crime.
Submitted by eileen difranco (not verified) on December 7, 2012 12:56 pm
We do not have to stand up for Helen Gym against the comments of someone who does not have the gumption to post his/her name. Her tireless efforts speak for themselves. In fact, I would suggest to those of us who post here not to even bother to respond to anonymous comments. Remaining anonymous gives the writer power to say something he/she would not be brave enough to say publicly. The facts remain the same. The school district that claims it has no money hires Tom Knudsen to the tune of $25,000 a month. It then gives astronomical raises to members of administration. IT solicits funds from expensive business people to conduct studies that leave out ALL of the stakeholders. In the end, the SD has spent millions of dollars, both taxpayer and private funds, which could have been used to lift up those "low performing" seats. Now, based upon a tainted study, the SRC intends to close schools, some of which are neighborhood anchors.
Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 7, 2013 8:18 am
Wonderful piece! Thank you Helen! To add this, one has to wonder why the city and state are NOT being held accountable for monies owed to the school district. The city owes $515M alone in uncollected delinquent property taxes (http://planphilly.com/tax-delinquent-properties-2012). And though the state made $2.4 BILLION in gambling money- it doesn't seem to reach the school system (http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local//philadelphia/49122-pa-slot-mac...). There seems to be corruption throughout our city leaders. The school district should have made significant cuts to administrators, not teacher- especially in the name of saving money... but it is these very administrators that make the decisions, and they would rather holler about teachers unions and save their own jobs. Since they have the power, and the votes, they decide to keep themselves and their payscales. But the problem is bigger than that. The school district used money from a major philanthropic donor (William Penn Foundation, $2.7 Million) to hire the Boston Consulting Group - a consulting firm that has gone around the country making the same recommendations: close the public schools (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/boston-consulting-group-h_n_166...). With the failing of public officials to stop this and collect taxes and deliver them to the school district as promised, they have allowed powerful private interests to move into the realm of education and buy buildings, land, and the right to educate our children at a vast discount. It almost seems as if the previous disinvestment in our public schools was a business tactic to be able to justify selling them cheaply later.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on December 9, 2012 1:18 am
The status quo Philly powers suceeded in getting Nowak fired. Now to settle this suit, William Penn will resume its protection payments to all the "advocacy" groups promoting the wretched Philly status-quo. Anyone who questions this status quo will get Nowak's treatment. I just wish the status quo shills here would stop pretending like they are some little guy under seige from outside forces. Their unions spend more money lobbying than any other person or group in PA. They ARE the malevolent moneyed interest that buys politicians and pulls strings. Just because not EVERY politician dances for you nowadays doesn't make you the underdog.
Submitted by Philly Activist (not verified) on December 12, 2012 11:33 pm
Please read the article before commenting - it is not a "lawsuit." It is a complaint to the Board of Ethics. Read William Penn's Five Year Plan - they state they are willing to take risks. Read, read, read before you post and make a statement!
Submitted by Ken Derstine on December 13, 2012 5:06 am
How this ethics complaint looks from the other side of the state: When Foundations Go Bad from Yinzercation http://yinzercation.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/when-foundations-go-bad/
Submitted by Katie (not verified) on January 7, 2013 9:48 am
You better believe the University of the Sciences wants Wilson Middle School to close- then they can buy that adjacent property at a discount and put up another wall between themselves and the neighbors (low income blacks)- just like they have done with the current windowless building that faces that side of their campus. They are, literally, walling themselves off and refusing to look at the neighborhood around them- even if they would overlook a playground.... because maybe if they did have windows looking into West Philadelphia- they would realize that something needs to be done- they they NEED to reach out and help that struggling school- instead of wall themselves off from the blight.

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