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.
By Benjamin Herold
for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
The 500 Philadelphia students who expected to attend one of the two alternative education programs previously run by troubled Delaware Valley High School are in for a big change when school starts.
In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – during the meeting at which Mayor Nutter became its president -- enthusiastically endorsed parent trigger laws, which allow parents to instigate a school turnaround. If 51 percent of parents sign a petition at a low-performing school, they can force drastic reorganization according to one of the four federally prescribed methods – from replacing the principal to replacing half the faculty to charter conversion to outright closure.
By Katie McCabe
The School Reform Commission voted Monday to outsource the three top management positions in its transportation department, but recessed until Wednesday to allow more time for talks with the labor union representing bus drivers, mechanics, and other blue-collar workers whose jobs could be facing a similar fate.
The Boston Consulting Group has identified up to 60 Philadelphia school buildings as potential candidates for closure and helped line up private vendors willing to replace the School District’s unionized blue-collar workforce at a $50 million discount.
These steps are just part of the blue-chip consulting firm’s far-ranging behind-the-scenes effort to help the beleaguered city school system rethink how it does business.
The broad scope of BCG’s efforts this spring are detailed in previously unreleased “statements of work” obtained by the Notebook/NewsWorks under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law.
Read the documents:
In seeking a contract in Philadelphia, the Boston Consulting Group emphasized its previous work to transform education in New Orleans and streamline operations in other urban districts in a far-reaching proposal to design, roll out, and help manage a 21-week overhaul of the cash-strapped District.
“This project is a unique opportunity to help the School District of Philadelphia close its budget gap in the short- and long-term,” wrote BCG officials J. Puckett and Allison Bailey.
The William Penn Foundation is trying to raise more money so the Boston Consulting Group can continue working with the School District on its budget and transformation blueprint. The foundation's leader said that the company’s expertise is essential – despite continued community hostility to the arrangement.
“I am still speaking to others about helping to keep [BCG] until we have more capacity within the District to run operations,” said William Penn president Jeremy Nowak.
The School Reform Commission and private philanthropists may be offering considerable support to the Boston Consulting Group and vigorously defending their work.
But the District’s new management consultants have received a substantially cooler reaction from Philadelphia’s community and labor leaders.
The District is paying an estimated total of $1,776,832 to completely subsidize the facilities costs of charter operator Universal Companies in two District-owned buildings this school year.
The costs cover 14 District staffers across the two buildings, including three building engineers, four custodial assistants, and seven general cleaners. Services being provided free of charge by the District this year also include utilities, trash pickup, and cleaning and building engineer supplies.
On Friday, after months of delay, District officials announced they had reached a resolution with Universal on a long-standing dispute about facilities license agreements at the two South Philadelphia schools, which were both awarded to Universal last year as part of the District’s Renaissance Schools initiative.
After months of maneuvering, the School Reform Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday on a $2.55 billion operating budget for the 2012-13 school year, including a projected $218 million gap that will likely be plugged through deficit borrowing.
But first, parents, advocates, and labor unions – angry at deep cuts to schools this year and fearful of a new “transformation blueprint” that would radically overhaul public education in the city – are planning to turn out in force to protest.