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Private managers of Phila. schools could lose contracts

Private managers stand to lose some of the Philadelphia schools they currently run if a recommendation made to the School Reform Commission yesterday is adopted.

Private managers stand to lose some of the Philadelphia schools they currently run if a recommendation made to the School Reform Commission yesterday is adopted.

The district should not throw out all outside managers or sign new contracts with all of them, said Tim Field, a special assistant to chief executive Arlene Ackerman.

Rather, the district needs to evaluate each of those 38 schools and return to the district the lowest-performing ones beginning in September.

Schools will fall into one of three categories - lowest performing; limited progress, which will get a one-year contract with the current provider, with an eye toward replacing the provider for the next school year; and positive progress, which will receive a one-year contract with a possible multiyear renewal.

A determination of where each school falls has not yet been made. They will be evaluated on a combination of student performance and school climate, officials said.

Sandra Dungee Glenn, commission chairwoman, said the recommendation was likely to carry at next week's meeting. She was an early opponent of the movement to turn schools over to private managers, but now considers herself an "agnostic," she said.

"By their nature, they are not a silver bullet to reform," Dungee Glenn said. "Where they work, we should learn from them and where they don't, we need to correct and move on."

Schools will be evaluated on an index that combines student performance, including test scores; and school climate, including safety, leadership and parent involvement.

The lowest-performing schools generally have high teacher turnover, unfocused professional development, many violent incidents, and limited parental involvement, officials said. They will be given extensive support by the district.

The next tier, the limited progress schools, will have increased direction from the school district next year.

Todd McIntire, general manager of Edison Schools Inc., the provider with the most schools, at 20, said Edison is supportive of the recommendation.

"We applaud a school-by-school approach," said McIntire, who noted that the outside managers took the district's most troubled schools when the "diverse provider" experiment began in 2002.

Currently, 18,000 students attend the 38 schools run by outside managers.

Also yesterday a task force whose majority members represent charter schools urged the commission to create an independent charter office that would report directly to the commission. The charter office is now a department within the district and reports to the CEO.

The office would be responsible for making sure that charters comply with state regulations, "serve as an advocate for charters" and assist charters with other district offices. The group said the staff should include those with charter experience.

The proposal was the most important of the nine recommendations, said cochair, Helen Cunningham, executive director of the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

The 10-member group, which included parents and civic leaders, held two public meetings last month.

The task force was created in December at the urging of commission member James Gallagher to improve communications between the district and the city's 61 charter schools.

The action came at the same meeting when the commission adopted a new policy to increase district scrutiny of charter schools.

Dungee Glenn said she didn't know if she would support having the charter office report directly to the commission. "I don't know if that's the best way to go."

Dungee Glenn, who has taken a more cautious approach to charters, noted that the proposal came from a group largely drawn from the charter community and addressed charters' perceptions.

She said she did not believe any of the task force's recommendations would reduce the commission's oversight of charters.

Dungee Glenn also said she expects the commission will vote next week on extending the charter of Philadelphia Academy Charter School for five years.

The charter has been under district scrutiny and the subject of a federal probe into allegations of financial mismanagement, nepotism and conflicts of interest.