Ethics complaint looms for William Penn, BCG

Members of the civic group Parents United for Public Education will file a formal complaint with the city's ethics board tomorrow, said Helen Gym, one of the group's founders. The complaint contends that work the Boston Consulting Group did for the Philadelphia School District this year constitutes lobbying under the city code, and that BCG and the William Penn Foundation - which paid for the work - should have registered as lobbyists.

BCG, for several months, studied the district's operations and came up with an extensive set of recommendations for how to cut costs and restructure operations. Parents United, the Philadelphia Home and School Council and the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP say that the lobbying dealt with charter expansion and tagging dozens of district schools for closure.

The complaint comes after the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia completed a legal analysis of the issues at Parents United's request.  Also signing on to the complaint are the Philadelphia Home and School Council and the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP.

PILCOP attorney Michael Churchill noted that it’s the failure to register that constitutes a violation, not the act of lobbying itself. “This opinion does not say it was illegal for them to engage in these actions. It says if they do it, they should register.”

William Penn officials said they did nothing wrong.

"We are aware of their intent to file a complaint, and our attorneys are confident that it is without merit. The William Penn Foundation has been a force for public integrity and civic good in the Greater Philadelphia region for nearly 70 years, and we will continue that tradition through our efforts to improve children's futures, protect the environment, and nurture creativity and rich cultural expression," spokesman Brent Thompson said in a statement.

In a surprise move, William Penn CEO Jeremy Nowak left the foundation last week.  Nowak was highly involved in the BCG and district work, but board chair David Haas has said that Nowak's departure had nothing to do with the foundation's district work.

A spokeswoman for the Boston Consulting Group could not be reached.

Parents and representatives from the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss the complaint.

"This complaint is fundamentally about the public understanding that the controversial plan by the Boston Consulting Group was funded by narrow private interests with a specific agenda," parent Gerald Wright, another Parents United co-founder, said in a statement. "They have been allowed unprecedented access to information and data denied to the public, and they have had unprecedented access to lobby top decisionmakers without ever identifying as lobbyists."

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