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Summer 2007 Vol. 14. No. 4 Focus on Budget Crunch

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Suppressed study on EMO contracts posted on Notebook website

By by Paul Socolar on May 24, 2007 12:00 AM

Read the District's report

(May 26, 2007)

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook today posted on its Web site an internal School District report, which the District has refused to release publicly, providing a harshly critical view of the District’s contracts with outside “education management organizations” (EMOs).

Articles about the suppressed evaluation were published this week in the Notebook and the Philadelphia Inquirer, both of which were able to secure copies. However, the full 93-page District study, dated April 23, still has not been formally released to the press or public.

The School Reform Commission is slated to meet Tuesday, May 29 to adopt the School District budget for 2007-08, and on the table are contract renewals with the EMOs and the question of how much to budget for those contracts, which currently cost the District $18 million a year. District staff recommended cutting that amount by two-thirds for next year, but the issue of EMO contracts has become a hot political battle.

The suppressed report, submitted to the SRC by the District’s Office of Accountability, Assessment, and Intervention, recommends termination of contracts with all six of the for-profit and nonprofit school managers currently running 41 Philadelphia schools, or else renewal of the contracts only at the 14 schools that met their “adequate yearly progress” targets in 2005 or 2006.

The report finds fault with the contract language, noting that the EMO contracts lack adequate terms and compliance mechanisms to ensure the delivery of mandated services to special education students and English language learners. It states that the contracts treat the delivery of services for English language learners as if it is optional, and 10 EMO-run schools with an ELL population have neither a highly-qualified ESOL teacher nor even an assistant who speaks the students’ native language.

The District report offers a list of recommendations to ensure a more thorough accounting of how the EMOs use their funds if any contracts are renewed. It urges limiting any new contracts to two years’ duration and including strict compliance mechanisms.

John Chubb, the chief education officer of Edison Schools, Inc., the largest of the EMOs, has denounced the report as “biased, intellectually dishonest and downright sloppy,” according to the Inquirer’s story.

SRC spokesperson Carey Dearnley said the report is not being released publicly at the recommendation of the District’s chief counsel, Sherry Swirsky. Dearnley added that SRC Chair James Nevels did not order the release of the report despite numerous requests from news organizations “because he generally defers to the advice of counsel in these situations.”

Dearnley offered no explanation for the legal opinion other than that the District is not required to release the report.

Discussing the Notebook’s decision to post the report on its website, board member Ron Whitehorne commented, “This report contains some valuable information that will help the press and the public scrutinize the contracts with EMOs. The contracts cost over $100 million over the past five years. The District report suggests that this money is not adequately accounted for and says services that should have been delivered were not being adequately monitored.”

“If the District staff found problems with the EMO contracts, the public has a right to know about the problems and be part of the dialogue and decisions about how to move forward,” Whitehorne added.

About the Author

Notebook editor Paul Socolar can be reached at 215-951-0330 x2107 or pauls@thenotebook.org.

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