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Company Seeks To Link Pay to Student Improvement

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The private consulting firm chosen to lead the Minneapolis school district is turning to local schools for help in designing a contract that will link the company's pay to educational improvements.

Peter Hutchinson, who is the firm's founder and will act as superintendent under the novel arrangement, met last week with students, teachers, and administrators at two high schools in the city to seek their ideas on what they would like to see accomplished in the district.

Similar grassroots contacts will continue in the coming weeks, said Barbara Nicol, a spokeswoman for the district.

The firm, Public Strategies Inc., is expected to have a final contract by Dec. 13, when the state is to announce if it will grant a waiver allowing Mr. Hutchinson to lead the district. A former state finance commissioner, he does not have credentials as a school administrator.

Minneapolis is apparently the first public school system to hire a private, for-profit firm to manage the entire district on a long-term basis. The school board this month picked Public Strategies over several conventional candidates for the superintendency. (See Education Week, Nov. 10, 1993.)

The goals to which the firm's pay will be linked are being set by Mr. Hutchinson, Babak Armajani, the chief executive officer of the firm, and school officials. They could include, for example, reducing staff turnover and improving student achievement.

The school board and district officials will continue to set policies on curriculum and other instructional matters, Ms. Nicol said.

Advice From E.A.I.

The head of another Minneapolis-based firm that has pioneered the private management of public schools offered some words of caution for Public Strategies last week.

John Golle, the chairman and chief executive officer of Education Alternatives Inc., said he supported Public Strategies' bid in Minneapolis but fears the firm will be trapped by the checks and balances of district management.

E.A.I. provided the Duluth, Minn., schools with an interim superintendent under a four-month contract last year. The firm became embroiled in an ongoing local dispute over school construction and was accused by some school board members of operating with undue secrecy. (See Education Week, March 18, and Aug. 5, 1992.)

Mr. Hutchinson's "strategy was to become part of the system'' in Minneapolis, Mr. Golle said. "We did that in Duluth and we vowed we'd never do it again.''

E.A.I., which runs nine public schools in Baltimore, has continued to seek contracts that would give it broad authority to operate districts on a long-term basis.

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