Philly schools look to outsource two top administrators, temporarily

 The School Reform Commission will vote Thursday whether to outsource two assistant superintendent positions to Foundations Inc. (NewsWorks file photo)

The School Reform Commission will vote Thursday whether to outsource two assistant superintendent positions to Foundations Inc. (NewsWorks file photo)

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission will vote Thursday night on a resolution that would temporarily outsource two upper management positions to Foundations Inc.

Foundations, a New Jersey based nonprofit, would receive a $280,500 contract to staff two assistant superintendent positions.  One would work for the “autonomy network” and another for Network 6, which comprises the district’s schools in Northwest Philadelphia.

The district would interview and select candidates supplied by Foundations based on experience and qualifications.

District chief of staff Naomi Wyatt explains to the SRC in the text of the full resolution that the move is necessary because the district has been unable to find highly qualified candidates in the middle of a school year.

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“They seem to have individuals which are actually former administrators in the School District of Philadelphia that have now retired who are willing to do this work temporarily while we still search for full-time candidates,” said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

The vacancy in Network 6 was created when Karen Kolsky, a longtime district veteran, shifted into a new role as chief of neighborhood networks.

Cheryl Logan, who worked under Superintendent William Hite in Prince George’s County, Md., was named assistant superintendent of the newly created autonomy network in July, but then promoted to chief academic support officer in October.

Wyatt explains that the district will pay Foundations a prorated annual salary and benefits cost of $16,500 per month for each new administrator, which she says includes a slight savings in benefits.

Gallard says the district’s search for assistant superintendents will continue. “If we find another candidate midyear we will put that candidate in there and terminate that [Foundations] contract,” he said.

Foundations has a history of winning – and losing – contracts to oversee District schools in Northwest Philadelphia.

In 2002, in the wake of the state takeover of Philadelphia schools, the nonprofit was awarded contracts to manage five schools in Northwest Philadelphia, and the following year, they won an additional contract for a management role at Martin Luther King High School.

Foundations and other education management organizations lost most of their contracts several years later based on weak academic performance at the privately managed schools.

State Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), one of only a few local political officials to support the outsourcing of school management, has been a vocal advocate for Foundations’ role.

Foundations Inc. found itself in headlines in 2011 when Evans aggressively lobbied for it to take control of Martin Luther King High School through the renaissance charter process. At that point, Foundations had managed the school on a limited basis since 2003.

The SRC voted instead to award the school to the for-profit charter operator Mosaica.

The next day, though, Mosaica backed down, in part, because of the influence of Evans.  Foundations had contributed to Evans’ political war chest.

After the backroom dealings became public, Foundations, too, withdrew from considerations, and MLK became a district-run promise academy instead.

The city’s chief integrity officer later chided Evans for acting as a “puppet master” in an effort to steer a contract towards a favored vendor.

Evans maintains that he did not commit any wrongdoing in his lobbying efforts, and claimed he was vindicated when Mosaica was ordered into fiscal receivership in 2014.

In July, Mosaica quietly forfeited its interest in Birney Elementary, which it won through the renaissance process the same year as the hubbub at Martin Luther King.

If the SRC votes Thursday night to approve the pending contract with Foundations Inc., the group will staff the assistant superintendent position that will oversee MLK.

To his knowledge, Gallard said Evans did not lobby for Foundations Inc. to secure this latest contract.

Evans did not respond to an interview request.

The district’s other recent outsourcing decision has proved to be a major disappointment. The Cherry Hill based Source 4 Teachers was awarded a contract over the summer to oversee substitute teachers, promising a 90 percent fill rate by Jan 1, 2016.

It’s so far peaked at 37 percent, pushing educators across the city to stretch themselves thin in order to cover for otherwise leaderless classrooms.

Last year, under district control, the fill rate was 64 percent.

Paul Socolar and Dale Mezzacappa of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook contributed to this report.

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