With spring break behind them, Philadelphia school officials this week are beginning the heavy lifting required to get the school district's financial affairs in order.
The first of two scheduled hearings on the future of six management organizations that operate 41 low-performing schools will begin at 1 p.m. today at the district's North Broad Street administration building. The second meeting will be April 25.
Critics have said the so-called educational-management organizations (EMOs) should not get new contracts because studies have shown that they have not performed no better than the district during the last five years - despite receiving millions in extra funding.
But key state lawmakers, such as state Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola, a Republican who represents Dauphin and York counties, have warned district officials that reducing the role of EMOs could jeopardize the district's ability to receive $25 million annually in additional state funding.
Also today, the district plans to release highlights of the proposed $2.18 billion fiscal-year 2008 budget, district spokeswoman Amy Guerin said.
An early draft of that proposal is posted on the district's Web site. It indicates that about $100 million in spending reductions will have to be made to balance that budget.
Following tomorrow's regular meeting of the School Reform Commission, a public hearing will be held for anyone wishing to comment on the budget. Those who want to comment have until 4:30 p.m. today to register by calling 215-400-4040.
At today's EMO hearing, officials from Foundations Inc., Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania will make presentations to the reform commission.
At the April 25 meeting, officials from Edison Schools, Victory Schools and Universal Companies will get their chances.
The reform commission is expected to make a decision on whether to renew the EMO contracts in May, prior to their June expiration, Guerin said.
"The main thing I'm going to ask for is the opportunity to sit down with people and discuss how Temple can do things that add a lot of value to our schools while not duplicating things that the district does," said C. Kent McGuire, dean of Temple's College of Education.
"I look forward to talking about what it will take to improve these schools. That is a more important conversation than just talking about extending relationships as they currently exist," he added.
Sherrine Wilkins, Foundations' executive director for school services, said that if her organization gets a new contract, it will try to create a feeder system to allow students to move from Foundations' three elementary schools on to its two middle schools, and finally to the one high school, Martin Luther King High.
She said Foundations officials would work during contract negotiations with the district to get more control of schools.
"More autonomy to make day-to-day decisions would make life a lot easier. But we must always remember that the teachers and administrators are school-district employees," Wilkins said. "If it would ever get to that total-autonomy point remains to be seen."
But Helen Gym, a school-district parent and EMO critic, said the six management groups have already received too much extra funding for too little improvement.