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Edison Schools Inc.’s big investment in Philadelphia finally saw a return this spring. But the company isn’t considering it cash on hand just yet — at least not until the city’s powerful teachers’ union signs on to the deal and Edison assuages local critics. In April, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, which took control of the city’s public schools late last year, voted to hand over some low-performing schools to outside managers. Edison won a contract to oversee 20 schools, which put the company a step closer to profitability, which has eluded it since its beginnings in 1991. The New York-based for-profit school management company won the contract after waging a long campaign to win over public opinion for private sector involvement in Philadelphia’s failing schools. But for Edison, the victory won’t be complete until it’s in writing. No one knows that better than General Counsel David Graff, who will be handling negotiations with the Reform Commission over the school management contract, which will cover a variety of matters, including Edison’s length of service, its rights and obligations, and, of course, how much it will be paid. And then there’s the union, which could stymie the deal if it doesn’t accept the Edison way of running schools. Graff, 34, will have a role in helping the commission negotiate with the school district’s unions, including one of Edison’s most vocal critics, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. If Edison wants to hire teachers on its terms, it will have to mollify the union, which signed a four-year collective bargaining agreement nearly two years ago. “We negotiated in good faith for a four-year period. We expect everybody to live by that agreement,” says Ralph Teti, of Philadelphia-based Willig, Williams & Davidson, who represents the teachers’ union. Graff candidly admits that the company typically seeks “structural changes” when it manages a school system. Edison’s schools, for example, have a longer school day and year — and more pressure on results, such as test scores. “Undoubtedly, they will be difficult negotiations,” says Graff, himself a product of Pittsburgh private schools, Brown University, and Georgetown University Law Center. Edison’s window of opportunity into Philadelphia appeared last August, when then-governor Tom Ridge awarded the education business a $2.7 million contract to conduct a study of the city’s troubled school system. The company came up with several options, including one featuring Edison. But turning the idea of private management of Philadelphia’s public schools into reality hasn’t been easy. While political support has continued under Ridge’s replacement, Mark Schweiker, community support has not been forthcoming. A group of parents, civic organizations, and teachers sued in state court contending that the law passed last year allowing the state of Pennsylvania to take over underperforming schools is unconstitutional. And Philadelphia’s influential Democratic congressman Chaka Fattah has criticized Edison’s academic performance record. Graff, who joined Edison over three years ago, says that Philadelphia’s lack of brotherly love for his company is a distraction, but nothing he’s not used to. Edison is an easy target for critics who suggest that education is a public good that shouldn’t be left to the private sector. But if love for Edison may not be forthcoming in Philadelphia, Graff hopes that the company can at least earn contractual respect.

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