A nonprofit agency involved in educational research and evaluation yesterday urged business and community leaders, as well as parents and education officials, to "put aside individual interests" and work together to improve the city's schools.

Research for Action made the call in a report titled "A Philadelphia Story: Building Civic Capacity for School Reform in a Privatizing System."

Recent "citywide activities of parents, youth, school reform and community groups in response to the most recent budget crisis are encouraging," it said.

"Their calls for greater input into budget decisions and for a role in selecting the next district CEO are testament to the desire and energy" of community leaders to work with Philadelphia School District officials to help school reform succeed, the report added.

However, if "this energy and mobilization" is to continue "beyond those leading the current effort, many more of Philadelphia citizens need to join the effort," the report said.

Members of the Philadelphia-based research firm discussed the report yesterday with invited civic, foundation and education officials at the William Penn Foundation offices.

"We hope that it will stimulate discussion in the broader civic arena about its role in supporting school reform and in building the connection between the schools and the future of the city," said Eva Gold, a principal of Research for Action.

Gold noted in a statement that "Philadelphia is at a crossroads."

The 2001 state takeover of the city school district brought new "civic attention" to education, she said.

"On the other hand, this progress is vulnerable due, at least in part, to the absence of a civic capacity to sustain the reform agenda in the face of fiscal crises and leadership changes."

One of the key themes in the report is how to incorporate a need for "market strategies for urban development" with school reform.

In other words, how does a city like Philadelphia promote growth of its economic base - which has been seen as implementing policies to attract people in "high-tech, medical, and financial knowledge-based industries" - while at the same time provide equity, or fairness, in the education provided to children living in all sections of the city?

The researchers called Philadelphia "a city of paradoxes" in that it has been named "America's Next Great City," and been praised for its nightlife and restaurants, while it also has a 25 percent poverty rate.

"Any discussion of school reform in Philadelphia must contend with these paradoxical extremes," the report said.

There has been community anger not only about budget cuts, the report said, but also about a "six-year history of behind-closed-doors decisions, creeping privatization of a public system and a lack of accountability to tax-paying citizens."

The report can be downloaded at www.researchforaction.org. Or it can be obtained for $5 from Research for Action, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pa 19104; 215-823-2500, x. 508. *