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NCLB Outrages

D.C. Schools Considering Unusual Deal With Nonprofit

The reporter refers to some of the apparent problems in this deal. Good for him for bothering to check into the backgrounds of the people involved. I don't pretend to know the particulars, but on the surface this sure smells of deal making.

"Non-Profit" doesn't mean that people don't stand to make a buck.


By V. Dion Haynes

The D.C. Board of Education is considering a no-bid contract with a little-experienced but politically connected organization to upgrade academics and facilities in some low-performing schools.

EdBuild, which was started by an associate of both Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty (D), is seeking a contract to provide services to three schools for an as-yet unspecified amount.

The nonprofit organization would train teachers and introduce learning strategies at Rudolph Elementary School and MacFarland Middle School, both in Northwest Washington, and at Backus Middle School in Northeast. In addition, EdBuild would manage renovation projects at Rudolph and MacFarland.

Last week, the Board of Education gave the contract preliminary approval and endorsed extending the services to other schools. The school board is expected to take up the issue again early next year after the board and EdBuild reach a more detailed agreement that includes costs.

Supporters of the contract proposal said EdBuild would provide a unique service by coordinating efforts to boost student achievement with the management of building modernization projects. The deal could save the school system time and money, they said.

But school board member William Lockridge (District 4), who supports EdBuild's efforts to improve academic performance, opposes the proposal to manage construction projects. Lockridge, the only board member to speak against the proposal, said about 65 companies with extensive construction experience have contracts to oversee modernization of about 100 city schools.

The 65 companies were hired "based on their prior experience and projects they had done in the past and their financial stability," Lockridge said. "They are large companies. They have a track record. Why was EdBuild chosen when that is not their niche?"

He said EdBuild, which began operating in September 2005 and has focused on teacher training, lacks the experience to manage construction projects.

Lockridge also said he is not comfortable offering the contract, without competitive bidding, to an inexperienced company. "Obviously, to me, politics definitely had something to do with it," he said.

One of the founders of EdBuild is Neil O. Albert, a former director of the Department of Parks and Recreation and a former deputy mayor in the Williams administration. Albert has been tapped to serve as Fenty's deputy mayor for economic development, and he plans to step down as president and chief executive of EdBuild early next month.

EdBuild's staff includes Vice President Julie Mikuta, a former school board member; Chief Operating Officer Susan R. Cunningham, formerly of the SEED Foundation, which operates the SEED Public Charter School in Southeast; and Program Consultant Yvonne Morse, a former principal at the city's Birney and Davis elementary schools, both in Southeast.

EdBuild's board includes John W. Hill, chief executive of the Federal City Council, an influential civic group; and Kaya Henderson, who as an executive of Teach for America was responsible for the training of 170 teachers in the District.

School officials said they did not pursue competitive bidding because EdBuild is the only contractor that could provide both academic and construction services. They said they view the proposal as a way to help turn around the decline in enrollment at city schools.

"We saw this as an opportunity for us to reclaim student population . . . through a combination of facility improvement and academic enhancements. It's a very unique partnership," Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said. "We wouldn't have come this far if we thought it was a bust."

Cunningham, EdBuild's chief operating officer, said that although the company is young, staff members have extensive experience in improving academics and managing construction projects. Cunningham managed the design and construction of the SEED boarding school.

"Each of us brings a track record in our careers," she said. "Individuals here have a terrific track record in academics and facilities."

As part of its plans, EdBuild envisions creating space that could be leased to outside groups -- an arts program at MacFarland and a charter school at Rudolph.

Cunningham said EdBuild and system officials have not calculated the price that would be charged to manage the construction projects. She said the academic services would cost about $60,000 a school. She added that participating schools could make money by leasing space to charter schools and other outside organizations.

Currently, EdBuild is training teachers without charge at four schools, including Backus, as part of its effort to obtain a contract. The others are LaSalle Elementary and Thomas Elementary, both in Northeast, and Walker-Jones Educational Center in Northwest.

Leonard P. Massie Jr., principal of LaSalle, said the school has benefited greatly from EdBuild's help. If the board approves EdBuild's proposal, he said, LaSalle would seek a construction partnership. He said he thinks that EdBuild could speed up modernization of the building.

"We are making nice gains in the percent of students becoming proficient and advanced" on practice tests, Massie said. "We are making some grand strides."

— V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post
2006-12-26


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