State considers takeover of Phildelphia schools

PHILADELPHIA - The possible state takeover of public schools here has been pushed back to Nov. 30 due to the resignation of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head the new federal Office of Homeland Security.

In August, Ridge hired Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit school management corporation, to do a 60-day assessment of the Philadelphia public schools. The cost to taxpayers is $2.7 million.

The new governor, Mark Schweiker, will study the report and meet with the mayor at the end of October. The two men have one month to agree on a long-term plan for Philadelphia schools or the state will take over the schools Nov. 30.

In his farewell speech to the Pennsylvania Legislature Oct. 2, Ridge praised Edison Schools and cited privatization as a solution to school problems. He accused the school district of gross shortcomings and of not educating its 210,000 students.

Phil Goldsmith, school district CEO, called Ridge's comments a 'kick in the gut.'

Goldsmith had reorganized the administrative offices, cutting 177 administrators, sending 111 of them back into the classroom and saving $10 million a year.

'We have a bare-bones budget,' said Goldsmith. 'I don't know what Ridge means by gross shortcomings.'

Because the Philadelphia School District has a deficit of $216 million, a projected shortfall of $1.5 billion over the next five years, it is subject to state takeover under 1998's Act 46.

Parents and education advocates who are aware of what Edison is about are opposed to its takeover. Over 25 groups joined together to form, 'Philadelphians for Public Schools.' Coalition members testified at a hearing on Edison called by City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller.

Sarah Gilliam, Parents Union for Public Schools' director, said discrimination in funding and a lack of leadership are the root causes of the problems in Philadelphia schools.

'Edison is just a group of smart-talking businessmen keeping parents and the community out of the process of educating their children,' a member of ACORN said.

Helen Gym, of Asian Americans United, questioned why governments can fund stadiums without hesitation, but not schools. 'Is this the way a civil society shows its love for its children?' she asked.

Aldustus Jordan, of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, described Edison's poor record in other schools and questioned its ability to run any schools in Philadelphia. The Home and School Council president said, 'Edison is not the answer.'