Daily Times (Primos, PA)

Chester Upland ordered to expand transparen­cy in RFP process

- By Alex Rose arose@21st-centurymed­ia.com @arosedelco on Twitter

MEDIA COURTHOUSE » Common Pleas Court Judge Barry Dozor on Wednesday ordered three bidders who responded to a Request for Proposal to take over some operations in the Chester Upland School District to provide narratives of their proposals within a week.

The order directs the three candidates to come up with “an accurate descriptio­n, synopsis, and the details” of their respective proposals within seven days, which will be posted “immediatel­y” on the district website. The narratives should accurately reflect how the bidders plan to address the district’s short- and long-term challenges in 1,000 words or less, according to Dozor.

The order follows a conference call with counsel representi­ng various interests in the district held on March 31, which came in response to an emergency motion filed last month by the Education Law CenterPA and the Public Interest Law Center on behalf of four district parents and an advocacy organizati­on.

“Along with the parents and teachers of Chester Upland School District, we look forward to reading more about these proposals next week,” said Claudia De Palma, staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center. “This process will determine the future of public schools in Chester. It must be done with the public’s full understand­ing and with a focus on providing better education for their children, and our clients will not stop working to make sure everyone involved lives up to this responsibi­lity.”

Chester Upland is under a “Financial Recovery Status” designatio­n as part of Act 141 of 2012. A “conversion” provision of the Act allows the district to convert an existing school to a charter school as part of its recovery plan if doing so would result in financial savings.

The district put out Requests for Proposals last year to eight potential bidders and previously reported that it received three bids from Chester Community Charter School, which already has a strong presence in CUSD, as well as Friendship Education Foundation in Washington D.C. and Arkansas, and Global Leadership Academy in Philadelph­ia.

The district also identified the members of an “RFP Review Task Force” headed by

Dr. Leroy D. Nunery II, strategic advisor to district Receiver Dr. Juan Baughn. That task force is expected to evaluate the proposals and provide recommenda­tions to Baughn, who will in turn make his own recommenda­tion to the court on whether to accept or reject the proposals.

Max Tribble, a spokespers­on for CCCS, previously said that proposal involves converting Main Street Elementary School and Chester Upland School for the Arts into two new charter schools, but no informatio­n was originally provided about the other two proposals.

Attorneys with the Education Law Center-PA and the Public Interest Law Center decried what they saw as a lack of transparen­cy in the process and filed an emergency motion compelling the release of informatio­n about the proposals to better inform district residents. Dozor’s order would seem to address those concerns.

It also provides that the district website provide or update all names of the task force members, staff and advisors, as well as the names and business addresses of bidders, and clarifies that the task force’s work shall be “private, free of competing influences, outside interests and advocacy, or personal and financial interests.”

Baughn said Wednesday that he had not read the order yet, but plans to comply – and then some.

“My whole thing is to be as transparen­t as I can be,” he said. “I look forward to reading it and doing whatever the judge wants, absolutely.”

Maura McInerney, legal director for the Education Law Center, said she was pleased the court recognized the right of parents to receive accurate, timely and credible informatio­n about the process.

“The order requires that basic informatio­n be shared within days and that all proposals be publicly posted,” she said. “The evaluation process will be made transparen­t before final decisions are made. The future of our public schools must be subject to public scrutiny.”

In addition to the narratives from the bidders, Dozor directs the district to post “all proposals in detail, including all attachment­s and exhibits” to the website upon conclusion of the task force’s report and receiver’s recommenda­tions, save those sections marked confidenti­al or including trade secrets.

The order also directs the task force to provide its report and recommenda­tions

– including evaluation criteria – upon conclusion of the review, as well as the receiver’s own recommenda­tions and critiques when completed.

Addressing another issue raised by CCCS, Baughn has also been directed to provide a copy of all proposals and responses to the court under seal for safekeepin­g within seven days, which may be retrieved later. The district will likewise file the task force’s recommenda­tions; Chester Upland School Board recommenda­tions;

dates of all hearings before the School Board and transcript­s of all School Board Review Board hearings; confirmati­on of public advertisin­g for Review Board hearings on all initiative­s and proposals; the receiver’s recommenda­tions; and any petitions for the court’s review.

The bidders may also communicat­e with the public and share the same narrative descriptio­ns provided on the website, along with clarificat­ions, responses to inquiries, and their own definition­s of the narratives, under the order.

“Public reflection requires accurate, timely and credible informatio­n, and this order is intended

to provide the Chester Upland citizenry the means and opportunit­y to examine the process of decision making,” said Dozor in his order. “As the school district residents, parents and students are the stakeholde­rs and consumers of the school district’s initiative­s, they are required to know and have an opportunit­y to understand the various strategic initiative­s being considered, proposals submitted and how will, and will the proposals improve the delivery of education opportunit­ies, and what are the near term and future financial, economic and education impacts to the school district and students.”

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