As published in the East Dallas newspaper, The White Rocker News Aug. 22, 2001
School board gets bottom-line on Edison
By ANTHONY JONES
Last week, Dallas Public Schools Superintendent Mike Moses announced that the school district would end its multi-million dollar contract with the publicly offered corporation, Edison Schools Inc.
On Wednesday, Moses described a bleak financial picture for the school district and its means to pay the Edison contract. Combined with Edison School?s weak academic productivity, he asked the school board to consider concluding the contract at the end of the 2002-03 school year.
"Trustees, this obviously is an issue that has been very important to this school district and very important to you," Moses told the board. "Upon entering the district in January in 2001, it was apparent that this had been a program with which there had been disagreement about its implementation."
"Like we?ve seen throughout the nation, the city of Dallas and other Texas school districts, we?re in a period of tightening economic times that is forcing us to look at ways to save tax dollars and use them more efficiently," Moses said. "The Edison School project has been given an opportunity to operate in the district and they have had some successes. The bottom line question remains: Are the citizens of Dallas getting the best value for their education dollar with Edison Schools and that?s the question we now have on the table."
Moses also cited the fact that Edison?s performance record does not appear to match or exceed that of the district?s other schools. In 2000-01 Edison had two low performing schools (Henderson and Titche) and five acceptable schools, and in 2001-02, the number of low performing had increased to three (Blair, Henderson and Hernandez) and acceptable schools had dropped to four.
District 3 Trustee Lois Parrott, who is aware of the cost escalations built into the Edison contract, told The White Rocker News she supports Moses? recommendation.
"I had reservations and concerns about the for-profit management Edison contract from day one," Parrott said. "The contact needed legal opinion before it was initiated. I am Saddened that the students didn?t do better and grateful the superintendent is bringing it forward and I support his proposals at this time."
The nationwide for-profit Edison was designed to create innovative schools that operate at current public school spending levels and that provide all students, regardless of economic or social circumstances, with an education that is rooted in democratic values, that is academically excellent, and that prepares them for productive lives.
In Dallas, Edison has established a management partnership with seven schools in the district -- Medrano, Runyon, Henderson, Hernandez, Maple Lawn, Titche and Blair.
According to the district?s contract with Edison, only students enrolled in Edison schools for two years should be compared to "comparable students from comparable schools." Since the goal is to determine whether or not Edison schools were effective enough to meet expectations at a rate higher than comparable students at comparable schools, the effectiveness indices, not achievement, are the prime measures of success.
Mike Dryden, project evaluation director, told The White Rocker News that Edison has conducted several surveys, including Harris Interactive surveys.
"They survey the parents, teachers and administrators," Dryden said. "It varied by school but the parents are pretty positive. Of course, they (Edison) are trying to make themselves look as positive as possible."
Bill Webster, a district statistician, told the board Edison schools? results on the Stanford-9 were similar to their TAAS scores.
"In every case, except the writing comparison, Edison did not outscore the district," Webster said.
John Chubb, Edison's chief education officer, defended his company?s progress in a presentation to the board Wednesday.
"The students in the schools are much better off now than they were in the year 2000," Chubb said.
This year Dryden has conducted a preliminary evaluation on Edison, which is currently in the review process. Last year his evaluation was based on TAAS and the contractual goals provided by Edison ? "their goal was to meet or exceed the performance of comparable schools and comparable students in the district," he said.
"And they (Edison) did not make it," Dryden said. "They made it in terms of writing but not reading or math."
In the 2001-02 report, Dryden explained that from a cross-sectional perspective, "almost all the schools in the district have had higher performance on all assessments since 2000, including most Edison schools. Medrano did very well but the other six schools did not. The district has had tremendous gains in the last few years and Edison had to meet or exceed that."
Henderson, Maple Lawn, Titche and Medrano had gains over the past two years on all TAAS and all SAT-9 assessments. Blair had gains on all assessments except TAAS writing. Runyon had gains on all assessments except SAT-9 reading and Hernandez on SAT-9 mathematics and TAAS mathematics, according to the 2001-02 report.
"However, the school district has done great in the last few years," Dryden added, explaining that because of that, "the Edison schools have had to beat a dramatically upward-moving target."
Dryden explained that the main concern for Moses is the district?s financial outlook.
"The cost is the bigger thing," Dryden added.
According to Moses, poor performance is not the only factor that could end the district?s contract with Edison. Budget constraints could determine whether district officials decide to terminate a contract with the New York-based school management company.
"The issue goes to this district?s ability to pay," Moses said. "We're a district with no property value growth."
At the meeting Wednesday, Moses cited an option in the contract with Edison and Texas law, which allows the school district to opt out of a multiyear contract because of budget constraints.
Moses said he would make a recommendation "very shortly" on whether the Dallas Public Schools should continue the partnership with Edison. Three years remain on the five-year contract.
According to a Dallas Public Schools official who wanted to remain anonymous, Edison is paid state funds based on the cumulative student enrollment.
When the contract was adopted in 1999, the per pupil fee paid to Edison was $5,715. In the 2001-02 school year, that figure was increased to $5,938 and followed in the current school year with $6,170 payments per pupil. The projected per pupil fee paid to Edison in the 2004-05 school year escalates to $6,661.
Likewise, the annual base contract amount climbs from $34.35 million, which was budgeted by the district in 2000-01 for Edison, to $58.34 in 2001-02 the school year. In the 2002-03 school year, the contract amount increases to $74.50 million and at the end of the 5-year period the district will be budgeting $110.4 million for the Edison Project, according to a 5-year projection.
Student enrollment at Edison schools in the district was projected increase 184 percent over the life of the contract. The per pupil fee will increase by 20 percent over the life of the contract and the adjusted annual base contract amount at year five over the annual base contract amount of year one will increase 241 percent, according to the 5-year projection.
The 5-year projection took into account growth in the number of Edison schools per the terms of the contract. Student enrollment is cumulative, under the Edison contract.
The superintendent said he has had several conversations with Edison Schools President Chris Whittle.
"We want to continue to work with the leadership of Edison Schools as we get to a decision about what we feel should be the future of their program in the Dallas Independent School District," Moses said. "Our fundamental issue remains the economy, funding from the state, and the fact that there has been much less growth in the assessed value of homes and businesses here in Dallas County."
"We?re a district with a $1.50 tax cap, which we?re at a dollar-forty-seven," Moses added. "We?re a district with increasing health insurance obligations for our teachers. We?re a district that has, if we want to, advanced employee salaries next year, probably an obligation of nearly $30 million and to put that into perspective, a three-cent increase on our tax rate only raises $15 million."
In October 1999 former Dallas Public Schools Superintendent Bill Rojas said $30 million would be paid to the school district -- up front from Edison ? However, in May 2001 that $30 million had not been received by the district. On Monday, district officials could not verify if those funds had been paid to the district.