Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Privatized School Superintendents

The St. Louis public school board will hire a "turnaround management team" to restructure the public schools.

Ten companies, ranging from the partnership hired by Kmart to a team that includes the former head of New York City schools, responded by Monday's deadline to the School Board's request for an interim superintendent.

Bringing in a "turnaround management firm" to temporarily perform the duties of superintendent has so far been the signature move of the four new School Board members, elected in April with the support of Mayor Francis Slay. . . .

The novel approach of applying private sector remedies to the troubled school system has attracted the top turnaround specialists in the country, including some that propose pairing with well-known education reformers.

The ALTMA Group, a national firm specializing in restructuring financially ill companies, has proposed teaming with educators who worked under Paul G. Vallas, the former head of Chicago public schools who has garnered national attention for his current attempts to improve the Philadelphia school district. The group would feature top members of Vallas' team in Chicago and the leaders of his Philadelphia transition.

Another company, New York-based Alvarez & Marsal, has proposed coupling William V. Roberti, former CEO of the clothing company Brooks Brothers, with Rudy Crew, the chancellor of New York City Public Schools from 1995 to 1999. Alvarez & Marsal's resume includes restructuring services for HealthSouth, site of a massive financial fraud, and Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm ensnared in the Enron scandal. . .

The fees for the other companies vary widely, ranging from about $36,000 to $500,000 a month.

I'm all for privatization--it's in my job description. However, I have to wonder about the decision to spend millions on a job that normally pays around $150,000 or less. On the other hand, the California legislature just voted to "loan" Oakland $100 million in exchange for state control of Oakland schools. I imagine the private education crises team will have a better track record than the state of California will in Oakland--and for less than $100 mil. So maybe the St. Louis school board is getting a bargain. It should be an interesting experiment.

No comments: