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Up to 300 Readers To Evaluate New-Schools Proposals

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So far, approximately 700 people have received a form letter asking them to serve as proposal readers for the New American Schools Development Corporation.

With as many as 1,000 proposals expected from design teams nationwide, the corporation is gearing up for what promises to be a grueling selection procedure.

By the end of next month, it hopes to identify up to 300 readers to serve on as many as four selection panels.

Readers will be chosen based on a two-page application form, a resume, and the source and recommendation of the person or group that nominated them. The panels will meet for five days each during the third and fourth weeks of March, including a training session on the first day.

Multiple readers will evaluate each proposal. If they do not unanimously agree on a proposal's fate, it will be reread by another group.

Proposals that make it through the initial cut will then move up the ranks, eventually being reviewed by the panel as a whole. Although the panelists will not have any limit on the number of proposals they can recommend, said W. Frank Blount, the president of the corporation, the hope is that readers will winnow the field down to approximately 200.

Approximately 10 to 12 people on the operational side of NASDC and the members of its education advisory panel will then separately review the proposals in order to identify between 50 and 100 potential winners.

Once the advisory panel and the NASDC staff have arrived at their recommendations independently, they will select a common set of proposals to present to the corporation's beard of directors.

The board will make the final decision on the 20 to 30 proposals it intends to fund.

The advisory panel will also receive one-page executive summaries of every proposal that NASDC receives, so that they have a sense of what has been cut out, Mr. Blount said.

'Looking for Ideas'

According to Mr. Blount, the selection criteria will be identical to those listed in the request for proposals. They include:

  • The likelihood that the design will enable all students to reach the national education goals and attain world-class standards. In making such a determination, judges will consider the promise and originality of the design, the quality of the design team, and the strategies it intends to use to carry out its design.
  • The quality of the plan to assess the design's performance, including student outcomes.
  • The potential for widespread application and the quality of plans for fostering such application, including consideration of changes needed in the policy environment; the recurring costs of implementing the design; and the continuation of the effort after NASDC funding ceases.
  • The appropriateness and realism of the proposed costs to NASDC.

In an interview this month, Mr. Blount said NASDC has refused to weight the criteria.

In addition, C. Reid Rundell, the vice president of operations, said proposals will not be selected based on achieving either a geographic mix or a combination of small and large bidders.

"We're looking for ideas," he said.

The corporation is in the process of approving a conflict-of-interest policy that will apply to all those involved in the selection procedure.

According to the form letter, no one can serve as a reader who is either a member of or a contributor to a design team. In addition, all those involved in reviewing the proposals will be required to recuse themselves from making judgments about bids that might present a potential conflict.

But, Mr. Blount noted, "if you take it to the nth degree, nobody could read one. We're going to have to play a little bit of the wisdom of Solomon here."

'Destroy and Shred'

To protect the secrecy of the proposals' contents, everyone involved in the selection process must sign and honor a confidentiality statement.

In addition, the proposals themselves are being kept under lock and key in an archive room at NASDC's headquarters in Rosslyn, Va.

Each proposal will be numbered, and all copies will be serialized and signed out to individuals by name. No proposals will be circulated without the presence of a NASDC employee. And employees must virtually "sign their name in blood" to check them out of the archives, Mr. Blount said.

The procedures--which are patterned after the way businesses handle documents related to mergers and acquisitions--are intended to address concerns raised during the bidders' conferences about NASDC'S ability to protect potentially marketable ideas from duplication by others.

In contrast, "intellectual property" developed by design teams with NASDC funds "belongs to NASDC," Mr. Rundell said. NASDC will not market property or services to end-users, but will encourage their widespread dissemination and use through licensing or other arrangements with schools and school systems, design teams, consultants, and others. The corporation intends to begin announcing the design teams on or before May 31.

It has pledged to "destroy and shred" all proposals that are not funded, Mr. Blount said.

The first round of contracts will provide one year of funding for planning only, with costs ranging from up to $500,000 to $3 million.

In the second stage, the most promising of the design efforts will receive a second two-year contract for testing and implementation.

Finally, between the spring of 1995 and the spring of 1997, NASDC will contract with an even smaller number of teams to provide technical assistance to communities to adapt the best of the implemented designs to meet their own needs.

In no case would the total amount awarded to one design team for the five-year effort exceed $20 million.

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