School board votes to let Edison keep control of 3 elementaries

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore school board voted last night to keep a for-profit company in charge of three elementary schools, but the details of how the company will be paid have yet to be completed.

School board documents estimate that Edison Schools will receive $14.6 million to continue running Montebello, Furman Templeton and Gilmor elementary schools next academic year. Though the figure may change, the company will likely receive less than it does now under a contract with the Maryland State Department of Education.

The school system has agreed to pay Edison the same amount per student as it gives its charter schools, public schools that operate independently.

But the city's charter schools are still negotiating with the school system over how much money they will receive next academic year, while awaiting a ruling on the matter by the state's highest court.

The three Edison schools enroll about 2,100 students, up from 1,500 when Edison took over seven years ago.

Though the Edison schools run like charter schools, they cannot be designated as such because Maryland law prohibits for-profit companies from managing charters.

The board documents were unclear about the length of Edison's new contract. A summary of the contract posted online listed a yearlong "period of performance," from July 2007 through June 2008.

But the summary goes on to say that the contract "is for a two-year term with a possible one year renewal." In the next paragraph, it says, "this contract will have a minimum term of three years."

Jacqueline Marshall, Edison's vice president of development in Maryland, said her understanding is that the contract is for two years, with a one-year renewal option. Edie House, a school system spokeswoman, confirmed that the contract is for two years.

Edison has been managing the three city schools since 2000 under a state contract. The state had the power then to seize control of the schools, which were among Maryland's lowest-performing. Because of changes in state and federal law, it will return control to the city board when Edison's contract expires next month.

For years, city school officials complained about paying for the Edison schools without controlling their budgets. Now, they say they want to keep Edison on because of improved academic performance and parent involvement and increased enrollment at all three schools.

Montebello now meets federal and state standards for progress, but Gilmor continues to be included on a list of the state's lowest-performing schools. Templeton students met standards on state tests in 2004 and 2005, but not in 2006.

A September 2005 report by the nonprofit Abell Foundation showed that it was costing more to run Baltimore's three Edison schools than other city schools that had bigger jumps in test scores.

While Edison will likely receive less money under the new contract, the system will provide services such as payroll, that Edison now pays for. The board also has renewed and expanded a state contract with Kennedy Krieger Institute to provide special education services at the schools.

The system will require Edison to track the performance of individual students over time, and to annually administer a survey to parents, students and staff to gauge their satisfaction.

Edison's teachers and aides will join the system's union and be transferred to its benefits plan. In recent weeks, the company and the union reached an agreement over how to compensate teachers for an extended workday.

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