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Service, Not Controls

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In Baltimore, where nine public schools are now managed by an alliance of private companies, principals can track purchase orders at computers on their desks. The nine schools are hooked into KPMG Peat Marwick's financial-accounting system in Montvale, N.J. The system also allows the schools to examine their budgets, compare their actual expenditures with their budgets, manage their accounts, and compute salary information. Information on warehousing, maintenance, and food service is stored on another data base managed by Johnson Controls World Services, which maintains the school buildings. While contracting out the management of public schools to private companies continues to generate opposition, Mr. Herman of Peat Marwick said more and more school boards are expressing interest in the use of automation and methods of controlling expenditures common in the business world. "School boards today want to know how to control their money. They say, 'Tell us what is being spent and find ways of saving money,''' Mr. Herman said. "Governments have tended to emphasize controls and preventing you from doing wrong. Today people are saying, lo and behold, let's talk about providing services and meeting kids' needs.'' Companies Lend Expertise It is a sign of the times that business leaders, who have long been concerned about the academic quality of schools, are increasingly volunteering to help districts update their administrative services as well. In Providence, a committee of top district officials and representatives of large corporations is now working to create a human-resources system using up-to-date business practices. The effort addresses complaints that the district does not recruit the best-qualified teachers and fails to regularly evaluate its employees. An assessment of the district by the Providence Public Education Fund also found that it has a "woefully inadequate data-collection system.'' The district, the report says, could not provide such information as the average teacher salary or teacher-attendance rate at each school. The group also is pressing for the district to develop much more detailed information on student achievement, including whether graduates go on to college, information about the impact of numerous suspensions on students, and breakdowns of test scores and grades by ethnic group and race. Central administrators, especially, "do not know enough about their schools,'' the report says. "For a system to be effective,'' said Daniel D. Challener, the director of the study, "it has to make data-driven decisions, not decisions based on anecdotal information.'' Providence businesses also have been lending their expertise on data management and public relations to the district. The involvement of businesses should make it easier for the superintendent and school board to persuade the city to pay for a new information system, Mr. Challener said. 'Prepared To Testify' In Montgomery County, the businesses that were involved in the Corporate Partnership on Managerial Excellence included large national corporations such as Bechtel, Martin Marietta, and Marriott. The local telephone and power companies also participated. "Business wants to roll up its sleeves and participate and feel that they're doing something,'' said Lawrence A. Shulman, a former member of the Maryland Board of Education who organized the partnership's nine-month study. Because they have gained firsthand knowledge of the system's needs, Mr. Shulman said, the companies are "prepared to testify'' before other political bodies to help see that the administrative improvements are made. Mr. Vance, the district's superintendent, said some of the partnership's recommendations are being adopted immediately, including adding a candidate-tracking system in personnel, computerizing the transportation system, and allowing employees to have online access to the payroll. No More Privileged Information In another Washington suburb, meanwhile, school administators in Fairfax County, Va., are realizing that "administration and instruction are more and more, at the school level, overlapping,'' Dolores Bohen, the assistant superintendent for communications, said. The district plans to hire a consulting firm to help with "systems planning'' to make sure that people in the organization have access to the data they need, whether it relates to personnel and budgets, demographics, or instructional technology. Connecting such data and giving people easier access to it are the major issues the district hopes to tackle,

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