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Published in Print: April 4, 2001, as San Francisco Moves To Revoke Edison's Contract

San Francisco Moves To Revoke Edison's Contract

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The San Francisco board of education took a major step last week toward revoking its contract with Edison Schools Inc. for management of a 500-student charter school.

The 6-1 vote on March 27 gives Edison 90 days' notice of the potential revocation. The vote came one day after the superintendent's staff issued a report charging the management company with irregularities such as encouraging the transfer of low-achieving students and a failure to provide a bilingual education program.

But the New York City-based company called the investigation a sham and said the vote was a foregone conclusion after the election of an anti-privatization slate to the city's school board last November.

"This is a totally arbitrary revocation," said R. Gaynor McCown, an Edison vice president who was in San Francisco last week to deal with the controversy. "Unfortunately, I think the outcome here has been predetermined."

She said the company was willing to go to court to enforce its management contract for the Edison Charter Academy, which was converted to a charter school in 1998 from a neighborhood school that was coincidentally named Edison Elementary. The contract is set to run through 2003.

The dispute is an example of what can happen when an education initiative loses its patron superintendent or school board majority. Edison was brought into San Francisco in 1998 by then-Superintendent Waldemar Rojas. But Mr. Rojas moved to Dallas, where he has since departed as superintendent. And last fall, a slate of three school board candidates opposed to private, for-profit management of public schools won election to the San Francisco school board.

In February, the board voted 6-1 to authorize an investigation into what the majority said were a host of complaints about Edison's high teacher turnover, "counseling out" of special education students, and other matters.

'Anecdotal Evidence'

Early last week, the district staff returned with a 15-page report backed up by dozens more pages of appendices based on interviews with parents and teachers.

The report cites a few instances in which low-achieving students were allegedly encouraged to transfer from Edison Academy because they could not handle its longer school day, or because they were told the school "was not the place" for them.

"The district's data does not clearly indicate that these incidents are occurring at a statistically significant level," the report says. "However, the anecdotal evidence indicates a perception that potentially at-risk students may have been counseled to leave Edison."

The report also says that the number of special education students at the charter has declined from 30 to 20 since last school year, and that there have been no referrals for special education this school year. Special education students generally cost more to educate, and Edison has faced allegations elsewhere that it has tried to limit the number of such students in its schools.

Other issues cited in the report include alleged pressure on teachers from Edison-supporting administrators to vote for the charter conversion in 1998, Edison's alleged failure to file audit and school-progress reports, and the removal of a formal bilingual education program at the academy.

School board members cited the report last week in voting to begin revoking Edison's contract.

"The report makes clear that there are some violations," said Eddie Chin, a board member who voted against Edison. "It is our duty to make sure all schools are run within the bounds of the law."

Jill Wynns, the board president and a vocal opponent of Edison, said during the meeting that, based on the investigation, "it is clear we have cause for concern."

Edison responded formally by denying most, if not all, of the charges in the district's report. It also points to what it argues are significant achievement gains by students at the academy. Students in the charter school have shown gains on the Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition that outstrip "both district and state average gains," the company said.

"This is certainly not an independent investigation," Ms. McCown said. "The same people doing the investigating are the people opposed to our being there."

Under the board's action, Edison has 90 days to correct problems to avoid the contract revocation. But Ms. McCown expressed doubt that the issues could be resolved to the satisfaction of the majority on the school board.

"They have not listened to us," she said. "They're making it up as they go along."

Parents of children at Edison Academy have signed petitions and lined up at meetings to speak to the school board in favor of keeping the contract. The district's report says the district is "aware of a high level of parent satisfaction with the Edison Charter Academy."

Vol. 20, Issue 29, Page 12

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