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Consulting Firm Among Finalists For Minneapolis Superintendent

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A private, for-profit consulting firm is among the five finalists being considered by the Minneapolis school board to assume the duties of superintendent of the 41,000-student district.

If the company, Public Strategies Group, is chosen, it would become only the second for-profit company to manage a district. The Minneapolis-based firm Education Alternatives Inc. managed the Duluth, Minn., schools under a four-month contract last year. (See Education Week, March 18, 1992.)

E.A.I. is the only firm now managing public schools, according to Harold Seamon, the deputy executive director of the National School Boards Association. The publicly held company runs nine schools in Baltimore and oversees instructional services at a school in Dade County, Fla.

The Edison Project, the publisher Christopher Whittle's effort to design and launch a national chain of private, state-of-the-art schools, this summer announced it is now seeking to manage public schools. (See Education Week, Sept. 8, 1993.)

The post in Minneapolis has been open since February, when the board voted to suspend Superintendent Robert Ferrera after the district was sharply criticized for its handling of finances.

Four high-ranking school officials from urban districts are competing with Public Strategies Group, which is headed by Peter Hutchinson, a former state finance commissioner. The candidates were recommended to the school board by a search firm that reviewed about 65 applications, said Ann Kaari, the board president.

'Political Behavior'

The consulting firm, which already is under contract with the Minneapolis schools to assist in financial planning, will not submit a proposal detailing how it would manage the district until board members are "explicit about what results they want to achieve,'' Mr. Hutchinson said.

But he added that the small firm likely would put together a team of consultants, with Mr. Hutchinson taking on the primary responsibilities of leading the district. The firm might also continue to provide financial services under a separate contract, he added.

"The box on the organization chart called superintendent is not really a limitation,'' Mr. Hutchinson said. "Our view is that [the board] won't hire us unless they want to seriously change'' the way the district is run.

In Duluth, E.A.I. provided a licensed superintendent who remained an employee of the firm, but that arrangement resulted in divided loyalties, said Michael P. Maxim, a school board member who was the board chairman at the time.

In addition, he said, "private companies are not used to dealing with the kind of political behavior'' needed to maintain good relations with a school board and the public.

Finding little progress made in the schools, the Duluth board did not renew the contract.

The salary for the position in Minneapolis has not been determined, said Ms. Kaari. Mr. Ferrera was paid just over $100,000 a year.

The other finalists for the post are Constance Clark, a deputy superintendent in Washington; Clifford Janey, the chief academic officer in Boston; Ronald Naso, an assistant superintendent in Wichita, Kan.; and Carmen Vareia-Russo, the chief executive for the New York City high schools.

The school board and a community advisory group are expected to begin interviewing the finalists Sept. 20. A decision could be made as early as October, Ms. Kaari said.

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