SRC postpones decision on six outside managers

Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter addresses a "Rally and March for Education Justice" outside the Municipal Services Building. The rally was sponsored by parents' groups.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission yesterday postponed a decision on new contracts for six groups managing 41 district schools, but moved forward on negotiating contracts with two firms that will launch a search for a new chief executive officer.

The commission plans to vote Wednesday on new contracts for the for-profit Edison Schools Inc. and Victory Schools Inc., the nonprofit Foundations Inc. and Universal Companies, and the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.

The commission is planning to reduce funding for the companies by a third, or about $6 million. It is considering granting a one-year renewal to the groups at a reduced per-student rate, or removing from their control about a dozen of the schools that have failed to make progress over the last five years. Commissioners discussed several variations.

Len Rieser, codirector of the Education Law Center, speaking on behalf of several education-advocacy groups, urged the commission not to extend contracts for any schools that had not made "significant progress" under the outside managers. The groups also called for no more than one-year extensions and a reduced fee for the managers in light of the district's tight financial situation.

Although they do not believe the managers should be retained, Rieser said the groups "recognize that there are additional considerations - including pressure from Harrisburg, the difficulty of making drastic changes in school management on a short time line. . . . "

Also yesterday, the commission agreed to enter into negotiations with the Chicago-based Hollins Group and the Philadelphia-based Diversified Search company to conduct a search for a new chief to replace Paul Vallas, who started work Monday as schools superintendent in New Orleans.

Commission Chairman James Nevels said search firms have indicated a new CEO could be found by October, but he suspects it may take more time to fully involve the public in the decision.

He expects the contracts with the search firms will be executed within a few weeks. Thomas Brady, who had been the district's chief operating officer, will take over as interim CEO on July 1.

The commission also voted to close Ada Lewis Middle School, despite strong protests voiced by parents. District officials cited poor building conditions and dwindling enrollment.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or