More private money paying for District consultants

by on May 22 2012

The William Penn Foundation has raised $1.2 million from other local philanthropists and groups so that the Boston Consulting Group can continue to work with the School Reform Commission on completing and implementing a massive reorganization plan.

BCG's original five-week, $1.4 million contract ran out in early April, and William Penn president Jeremy Nowak confirmed Tuesday that he had raised additional money so the group could help implement the plan. (Disclosure: The William Penn Foundation is a major funder of the Notebook.)

Among the donors, he said, were local philanthropists H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest and Michael O'Neill, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Vanguard, and the Philadelphia School Partnership.

PSP, which is also funded by private donors, could not be reached for comment on whether a donation had been made to the group specifically for this purpose.

All the donated money, including the original $1.5 million from William Penn, was given to United Way, which then paid the consultants, Nowak said.

"The money can’t come to us directly, and no one wanted to give it directly to the School District, so we continued to do what was intended in the beginning and utilize United Way as the grantee," Nowak said. 

A planned fundraising campaign

When the foundation's original bequest was announced, Nowak said that he planned to raise money from other sources to support the reorganization. The proposed District reorganization plan was announced in late April.

“I committed an amount. I also committed to talk to other philanthropies to raise other money to help support them. I think that’s what we should be doing,” he said in a February interview with the Notebook.

The plan calls for closing 64 schools and dividing up those remaining into achievement networks of 20 to 30 schools each, run by outside operators. This blueprint has been met with significant opposition. Faced with protests that this was a further move toward privatization, District leadership said that the operators could be groups of educators already working in the District, but were never clear about how that would work.

This component of the transformation plan -- dividing up all District schools into achievement networks, a proposal now described as a "concept" – has essentially been put on hold, pending additional feedback. With plans for additional community input, it could be delayed into 2013, according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard.

RFP for pilot networks is on hold

Originally, there were plans to put out a "request for proposals" this spring to set up one or more pilot networks next fall, but that is not happening now, Gallard said.

There will be no RFP "until the concept of networks is fully established," Gallard said. "We can’t put a pilot forward if we are still taking input."

Nowak said that BCG is "looking at everything" involving the District's management and infrastructure, both academic and non-academic.

This includes facilities, transportation, human capital strategies such as teacher evaluation and recruitment, contract analyses, and internal financial and data systems, he said.

"They have pretty interesting ways for analyzing what schools, including what charters, should be closed or expanded," Nowak said.

Some of the original $1.5 million William Penn grant has also been used to pay a local firm, Sage Communications, for work related to the rollout of the reorganization plan.

Nowak reiterated that, facing huge funding shortfalls, the District is in a "crisis" and needs help. He said he had been attending regular meetings on the plan early on and more recently had been getting weekly updates from BCG.

"They needed somebody to help with a strategy how to deal with the deficit issue," he said. "And help - whether District or charter or contract schools - how do we scale up the best or shut down the worst."