Saturday, September 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Parent group wins secret school-closing docs

Parents United for Public Education say they've won their battle to obtain a consulting group's recommendation for 60 Philadelphia school closures.

Parent group wins secret school-closing docs

About 100 students, parents, and organizers found themselves temporarily locked out of the School District of Philadelphia Building after marching from City Hall. They were eventually allowed to come in.  Students, like Joshua Garcia, Jr., left, of Charles Carroll High School, wanted to tell the School Reform Commission exactly what they think about Superintendent Bill Hite´s plan to close 37 schools and close or change programs at dozens others.    ( Charles Fox / Staff Photographer )
About 100 students, parents, and organizers found themselves temporarily locked out of the School District of Philadelphia Building after marching from City Hall. They were eventually allowed to come in. Students, like Joshua Garcia, Jr., left, of Charles Carroll High School, wanted to tell the School Reform Commission exactly what they think about Superintendent Bill Hite's plan to close 37 schools and close or change programs at dozens others. ( Charles Fox / Staff Photographer )

Score one for transparency. Earlier this year, I wrote about efforts by parent groups, the NAACP and others to find out more about the tangled relationship involving the Boston Consulting Group -- which recommended a major overhaul of the Philadelphia School District, including massive school closures -- its funder the William Penn Foundation, and the district.

Today, Parents United for Public Education said they've won a skirmish in that war:

Parents United for Public Education has won its state Right To Know request to gain public access to the list of 60 schools identified by the Boston Consulting Group for closure and to the firm’s criteria for school closings – a request for information the District has consistently denied to the public.

Last spring, the Boston Consulting Group came under intense criticism for a controversial plan that promoted school closings, massive charter expansion, and privatization of key functions within the District. Under its multimillion-dollar contract with the William Penn Foundation, BCG agreed to provide the foundation with a number of “contract deliverables,” one of which was identifying 60 schools for closure. The “BCG list” was referenced by former Superintendent Tom Knudsen in public statements, but District officials had refused to release the list stating that it was an internal document and therefore protected from public review.

In December 2012, Parents United filed a complaint with the City Ethics Board around whether the contract between the William Penn Foundation and BCG amounted to lobbying (as opposed to “philanthropy”). Shortly after, with help from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, we decided to pursue the BCG list of school closings and criteria with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

Ultimately, the School Reform Commission did vote to close 23 school, causing considerable anguish in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Maybe now we'll get a clearer picture of why.

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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