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From the archives: Money talks: EMOs give generously

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

The Notebook launched in 1994 as a newspaper committed to ensuring quality and equity in Philadelphia public schools. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first publication earlier this year. We are featuring an article from our archives each week, shedding light on both the dramatic changes that have taken place in public education and the persistent issues facing Philadelphia’s school system.

This piece is from the Summer 2003 print edition:

by Paul Socolar

What do the leaders of five private educational management organizations (EMOs) now running Philadelphia schools have in common? One thing is that they all gave money to powerful local politicians.

According to published records of 2002 campaign contributions in Pennsylvania, Edison Schools CEO Chris Whittle led the way among the EMO honchos last year with contributions totaling $10,000, but Kenneth Gamble of Universal Companies and Rhonda Lauer of Foundations Inc. were not far behind.

Among those running an EMO, there appears to be agreement on where the money should go. The names that recur are State Rep. (and Pennsylvania House Speaker) John Perzel, State Rep. Dwight Evans, and State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams. Mayor John Street also managed to snag some contributions from EMO heads.

Whittle directed his largest 2002 Pennsylvania contribution of $5,000 to Perzel, but also gave $2,500 each to Evans and Williams. Edison’s chief operating officer, Christopher Cerf, also gave $2,500 each to Evans and Williams. Charles Delaney, Edison’s vice chairman, gave $5,000 to the House Republican Committee.

Rhonda Lauer, CEO of Foundations Inc., a past contributor to Perzel, gave him $2,000 in 2002. But Dwight Evans did even better, netting three gifts from Lauer in 2002, totaling $3,500. Evans has been a supporter of Foundation’s role in school management in Northwest Philadelphia, where Foundations was just named manager of King High School.

Six other officials at Foundations followed suit with gifts to Evans in 2002 that totaled $6,200, while Perzel received gifts totaling $1,500.

Another heavy hitter was Steven Klinsky, CEO of Victory Schools in New York, with his $3,000 contribution to Street weeks before Victory was awarded its first Philadelphia schools last spring. A Victory executive, Sheila Royal Moses, contributed $500 to Dwight Evans.

Gamble, chairman of Universal Companies, which manages three schools, directed $1,000 each to Street, Williams, and Perzel. Gamble was also a supporter of Gov. Rendell and a major contributor to the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee.

Bringing up the rear was Chancellor-Beacon CEO Octavio Visiedo, mustering only one $250 contribution in Pennsylvania in 2002, which went to Evans. Chancellor-Beacon was recently fired from its role managing five Philadelphia schools.

Campaign contributions can be found on the website and

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