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Ethics Board: No violation in Penn Foundation funding of schools study

At issue were contracts for analyses and recommendations for the district that were paid for by the foundation.

AFTER investigating a complaint from public-education activists, the city Ethics Board ruled earlier this month that an arrangement among the Philadelphia School District, the William Penn Foundation and a consulting firm did not violate the city's lobbying-disclosure requirements - but came close.

At issue were contracts with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for financial analyses and operational recommendations for the district that were paid for by the foundation.

The complainants, who are wary of private influence over district decisions to close traditional public schools and expand charter schools, said the consulting firm was in effect working as a lobbyist on behalf of the foundation.

The Ethics Board ruled that this was not the case, in part because the School Reform Commission had asked the foundation to fund a financial study, according to a letter to the complainants from Ethics Board Enforcement Director Michael Cooke. Had the events happened in reverse - if the foundation had come to the district with policy recommendations and then offered funding - the board's decision may have been different, Cooke wrote.

The letter did, however, detail interaction between Jeremy Nowak, William Penn's then-president, and the district officials - a relationship the activists describe as questionable.

"Nowak frequently asked questions about District policy and the work being done by BCG and, as described above, reviewed and commented on the statements of work before they were finalized," Cooke wrote. "Other witness[es] said that they believed that Nowak's role as a funding source gave him significant influence with and access to School District officials."