Schools' future tied up with city lobbying rules

Posted: December 06, 2012

A BATTLE OVER WHO should shape the future of public schools in Philadelphia - and how they do it - is headed for the city's Ethics Board.

An alliance that includes Parents United for Public Education, the Philadelphia Home and School Council, and the local NAACP is charging that the region's largest local philanthropy, the William Penn Foundation, and a top consulting firm are violating the city's new lobbying-disclosure law.

The advocates plan to lodge a complaint with the city Ethics Board on Wednesday over the foundation's raising more than $1 million for the Boston Consulting Group to work with school leaders to craft a plan that proposes closing dozens of schools and increasing privatization.

The unusual arrangement was promoted as a creative way for the cash-strapped district to get expert advice, but Helen Gym, a co-founder of the Parents United group, blasted it as a scheme to remake the 146,000-student district with a preset privatization agenda - and with little public scrutiny.

"It's not about what's best for the School District of Philadelphia but what a narrow set of private interests have determined," Gym said.

The groups are basing their effort on a recent report from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia alleging that Boston Consulting should have registered as a lobbyist and that the William Penn Foundation should disclose its donors for the project. The groups are asking the Ethics Board to require those disclosures and possibly fine the foundation and consulting firm.

The complaint comes just a week after the sudden, unexpected departure of the Foundation's outspoken president, Jeremy Nowak, who was seen as driving the push for more charter schools and private management. Officials of the $2 billion foundation said the departure was a result of clashing styles, not policy differences.

Both the William Penn Foundation and Boston Consulting Group emailed statements to the Daily News that they'd done nothing wrong.

"We are aware of their intent to file a complaint, and our attorneys are confident that it is without merit," said the foundation spokesman Brent Thompson. "The William Penn Foundation has been a force for public integrity and civic good in the Greater Philadelphia region for nearly 70 years."

"BCG was hired as a consultant to the school district," said spokesman David Fondiller. ". . . None of our activities on behalf of the district constituted lobbying under the law."


On Twitter: @Will_Bunch

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