Years later, advocates win transparency battle with Philly district about school closures

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    Helen Gym is the co-founder of Parents United for Public Education in Philadelphia.  (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Helen Gym is the co-founder of Parents United for Public Education in Philadelphia. (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Years after the Philadelphia School District closed more than two dozen schools, a private consultant’s report that suggested closing 88 is released.In 2012, the School District of Philadelphia sought the long-term planning advice of a management consulting firm hired with private money to help it chart a plan for the district’s long term fiscal health.

    The William Penn Foundation, a major Philadelphia-based philanthropic organization (which provides funding to NewsWorks/WHYY), provided funding for the Boston Consulting Group to formulate a strategy that included finding management efficiencies, negotiating labor savings and, most controversially, closing schools.

    The BCG’s recommendations, though, were kept out of the public domain — sparking a debate about how much transparency should there be when a public entity formulates its future plans.

    Last week, after a years long court battle, transparency advocates declared victory as the district decided to abandon the legal case and release the long-undisclosed document regarding school closures.

    The school district had argued that it should be able to seek advice and formulate potential solutions privately, without putting everything to paper for the public to pick apart.

    Parents United for Public Education and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia disagreed, especially because of BCG’s relationship with then-William Penn Foundation president Jeremy Nowak.

    Nowak, at the time, said he gave input, but didn’t help author the report.

    The document received last week by Parents United and PILCOP shows that the Boston Consulting group proposed closing as many as 88 schools. 

    By Spring of 2013, after a lot of public input, the district chose to close 30 schools. Some of which were on the BCG’s framework; some weren’t.

    In the extended interview above, Parents United for Public Education founder Helen Gym — who is “exploring” the possibility of running for an at-large City Council seat — talks to WHYY’s Kevin McCorry, explaining why she counts the release as a victory for Philadelphia’s public education system.

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