YOU MIGHT want to gather the kids tomorrow and take them down to the School Reform Commission meeting.

They couldn't get a civics lesson like this if you could afford to send them to Harvard.

Tomorrow's agenda includes a discussion of "reform" plans at Martin Luther King High School. The plans were reviewed and then revised by an ad hoc group of district officials who had trouble remembering which back room they met in, let alone what was discussed.

You could get whiplash trying to follow the meandering course of this sordid affair. But the CliffsNotes version goes something like this:

In an open meeting on March 16, the SRC voted to back King's parent-led School Advisory Council, which had voted to turn over the reform of King to a for-profit firm in Atlanta called Mosaica Turnaround Partners.

John Porter, of Mosaica, was still in his victory lap when Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery reportedly summoned him to a private meeting with SRC Chairman Robert Archie and state Rep. Dwight Evans. There are no transcripts of this mind-altering meeting.

But Porter must have slapped himself on the forehead and said, "I could have had a V8," because the next day he stepped aside, clearing the field for Foundations, a company with ties to Evans and Archie.

After a heated meeting between the SRC and King parents, Foundations backed out of its plan to run King as a charter.

This is a steaming cow flop of epic proportions. Most of us wouldn't soil our shoes on it.

But you would expect our reform-minded mayor to wade into this mess. Instead, it festered until yesterday, when the mayor expressed concern "about the many unanswered questions."

"I have asked my Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman to conduct fact-finding interviews," he said in a letter addressed to Archie. "I appreciate your immediate agreement to participate in this interview process."

Asked his opinion, the mayor told reporters that Archie may have been "just trying to bring some people together."


When the SRC chairman abstains from voting on the reform because of a potential conflict of interest but then sits in on a closed meeting on the same issue, he's got some splainin' to do.

I think the kids need to hear that explanation. And they need to know how highly valued their schools are. Because as odd as this episode may seem, it's just business as usual.

A contract to turn King into a charter could be worth as much as $12 million a year to the selected provider. Foundations already earns $600,000 a year for running a number of programs at the school with mixed results for the last seven years.

Foundations is a not-for-profit company. But that doesn't mean it doesn't make money. It just means it spends it all on its expenses.

Among those expenses are donations to Rep. Evans' various campaign coffers by its executives. Kids need to know why a not-for-profit is so generous.

They should know that when businessmen pay for access, they aren't trying to buy equal access. They want the kind of access that gets you invited to that meeting after the official meeting.

With dozens of schools being converted into charters, a lot of businessmen will be seeking access to the salons of power.

We ain't seen nothing yet. If Senate Bill 1 gets passed, providing up to $7,900 for every Philadelphia public-school child to spend on the private or parochial school of his parent's choice, the elbowing could get intense.

Charters that can't be bothered with even the reduced regulations that they now labor under will want to go private. Under the proposed voucher law, private schools would not be required to answer to anyone about how they spend your tax dollars.

So, gather the kids tomorrow for a field trip to the SRC meeting. Where else can they get a crash course in civics and economics in a few hours?

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