PHILADELPHIA – As angry students, parents and community activists chanted “Stop corporate greed” and “I am not for sale,” the School Reform Commission (SRC) voted unanimously March 26 to hire the school privatizer, Edison Schools Inc. as its lead consultant to manage Philadelphia schools.
The Philadelphia fight back against privatization and the undemocratic processes of the state of Pennsylvania started back in August 2001 when former Gov. Tom Ridge hired Edison Schools Inc. to do an assessment of the Philadelphia schools at a cost of $2.7 million. Two coalitions, Philadelphians United to Support Public Schools and the Coalition to Keep Our Schools Public, have led the opposition with protest marches and rallies, educational forums, petition drives in the neighborhoods, sit-ins, sleepovers and lawsuits in the courts. Members of the Philadelphia Student Union have played a leadership role.
The City Council passed a law requiring that a 75 percent majority of parents at a school would have to approve any privatization before it could be implemented. Mayor Street refused to sign it. He said it was not enforceable because Act 46, the state take-over law, supercedes it.
On April 1 a lawsuit, which shows the state take-over to be illegal, will come before a federal judge. The SRC has agreed not to sign any contracts with consultants until after this hearing.
Slowly the people of Philadelphia are beginning to understand that their school system is being dismantled without their consent and a few companies will profit greatly.
Edison, a for profit school management corporation, will provide an 18-month plan for a new CEO to be hired by September. Edison will design plans for recruitment and retention of teachers and principals, staff development and assessment and classroom management and behavior. Eleven other companies will be hired to do food service, procurement and other jobs. All will report to the SRC and no contract will extend more than two years. Edison had wanted all operations reported to them rather than the SRC.
Gov. Schweiker had repeatedly said that he wanted Edison Schools Inc. to run the Philadelphia Schools’ central administration office as well as 60-100 low-performing schools.
Mayor Street had strongly opposed Edison taking over the central administration office and Schweiker seemingly compromised. But on Mar. 22 the SRC announced that it would be cutting 325 administrative positions to save the district $25 million. The former CEO had cut 197 administrative positions last fall. It seems that Edison may be able to slip in the backdoor.
Because of a $200 million deficit, the school district was subject to state take-over under Act 46. The district was also deemed “Distressed” by Act 16. Both laws give the state the power to run the Philadelphia schools in the manner it sees fit. After the SRC vote to approve the privatization scheme, Gov. Schweiker announced his satisfaction and promised to end the State’s withholding of financial aid to the City’s beleaguered school system. He vowed to ask the state legislature to approve $75 million in state funding, much of it to flow into Edison coffers.
The five-person SRC took over on Dec. 21, 2001 with three commissioners appointed by Gov. Schweiker and two appointed by Mayor Street. James Nevels, an African-American Republican and investment firm CEO, was appointed chairman. Schweiker and Street agreed on a reform plan back in Dec. However, no one has ever seen the plan nor is there a written copy of the plan, belying Schweiker’s claim that the state takeover is a “partnership” with the city.
The SRC has held 8 public meetings. Parents and organizations have testified at those meetings and have asked questions but no answers were forthcoming. The SRC has not asked for input from parents, community, students or educators who are the stakeholders in the system.
The SRC has approved a number of Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) that may be hired to manage some low performing schools. Edison Schools Inc. is one of them. Philadelphians will have to wait until April 17 to find out which schools have been auctioned off to which EMOs.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org