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District negotiates to modify EMO model at 28 schools

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

In September 2002, the School District launched its controversial experiment with large-scale privatization of school management. It hired seven providers or education management organizations (EMOs) to oversee 45 low performing “partnership schools” and serve 28,000 students. The contracts totaled more than $22 million annually.

Seven years later, that experiment, on a much smaller scale, is taking a new direction.

The District is in the process of negotiating new contracts covering 28 schools that enroll fewer than 13,000 students, with the annual price tag dropping below $6.5 million.

Acknowledging that the model has not worked well due to overlapping responsibilities, District officials are looking for this new set of contracts to redefine the relationship with the five remaining providers – Edison Learning, Foundations, Inc., Victory Schools, Universal Companies, and the University of Pennsylvania. Temple University pulled out of the initiative last year.

The negotiations got underway this summer after the School Reform Commission, over the opposition of Commissioner Heidi Ramirez, authorized the District for the third year in a row to enter into one-year agreements covering 16 schools that continue to be low performing under the direction of private managers. The SRC has authorized renewed contracts for 12 other schools to run through 2011.

Tim Field, the District’s deputy chief of innovation and new initiatives, said the negotiations with providers are addressing “what is the appropriate scope of services, given the District’s intent to move away from ‘management’ and more toward partnerships that provide support services for these schools.” The providers will receive no more than $500 per student, based on actual student enrollment.

Field says that all District schools are drawing up “action plans” in September and that the District’s goal is to tailor each of the five provider contracts to secure services that are aligned with those plans.

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