ST. PAUL, Minn. – Progressives are very critical of for-profit school management companies.
They believe educating children should be the sole motive of the provider, and any effort to make money through the process will distract from and dilute the objective.
PEG, based in San Francisco, is an education consulting firm that contracts with hundreds of school districts around the nation every year.
It says its purpose is to partner with educational systems “to transfer them into racially conscious and socially just environments that nurture the spirit and infinite potential of all learners, especially students of color.”
PEG also blames so-called “white privilege” in schools for persistent gaps in achievement between white and minority students.
But PEG is also a for-profit enterprise. Company officials may believe in their cause, but they obviously want to make a lot of money while promoting it.
Evidence can be found in the language of PEG’s recent contracts with the St. Paul, Minnesota school district, which paid the company $369,828 in 2014-15 for various services.
The contracts reveal a company that’s very much concerned about maximizing revenue, controlling costs and protecting its brand.
A good example comes from a recent “contract for consultant services” between PEG and the St. Paul district. It outlines a process by which PEG utilizes district employees to lead racial equity discussions with colleagues, rather than directly providing that specific service itself.
To gain PEG “affiliate” status, a St. Paul staff member must complete the following process: a four-week online course, two teleconferences with an “experienced Beyond Diversity facilitator,” and “a face-to-face live training session conducted at a St. Paul Public Schools location.”
That doesn’t sound like PEG has to invest very much in training school employees to deliver its product.
Do online lessons and teleconferences require travel or a significant amount of PEG staff time? Is the “experienced Beyond Diversity facilitator” a PEG staffer, or just another school employee who has completed the training? Does a PEG staffer travel to the district for the “face-to-face live training session,” or does the company use school personnel for that, as well?
No matter. To have staff members attain “affiliate” status, the St. Paul district agreed to pay PEG a yearly license fee of $22,000, plus an “affiliate certification” fee for six staffers, totaling $21,000.
Once new “affiliates” are trained, one might assume that PEG would want and expect them to spread the message far and wide about the need for racial equity in schools, and the best ways to implement necessary change.
But in truth, the trained personnel are only allowed to spread that gospel for the specified period of time, and only within school districts that pay for the service.
For instance, the contract says “PEG will issue a one-year license to the District to allow for unlimited in-district Beyond Diversity seminar trainings led by affiliates.”
Beyond the one year stipulated by the contract, it appears that the trained “affiliates” will no longer be affiliates – and will no longer be allowed to lead discussions with their colleagues with PEG designation and materials – unless the district pays the licensing and certification fees, all over again.
“Affiliate certification is with the district listed on page one for the current school year for which the license fee has been received,” the contract says. “If the district does not pay the license fee, an affiliate is not licensed to deliver Beyond Diversity.”
So it’s not only about the message. It’s about the money.
Note the words “in-district” in the contract language quoted above. That suggests that trained affiliates, full of passion to spread the message, would not be allowed to host a seminar at a neighboring school district that desires racial equity, but can’t afford to hire PEG as a consultant.
And if an affiliate happens to take a job in another district that does not contract with PEG, forget it. He or she may believe in racial equity in schools, and may be burning to share their knowledge with their new colleagues, but they won’t be allowed to do it.
“If an affiliate moves to a new district that is not currently licensed with PEG, the affiliate is no longer licensed to deliver Beyond Diversity,” the contract says.
Client districts like St. Paul are also forbidden from sharing PEG materials with other districts.
“The district agrees not to copy, print, reproduce or duplicate the Protocol or any of its contents for use outside of the district, without the express consent of PEG,” the contract says.
Does that mean PEG will only share its crucial message with districts that are willing and able to pay for it?
What about the minority students who are being short-changed in districts that don’t hire PEG? Do they matter less, just because their school board won’t cough up the money to hire PEG?
Like any smart for-profit business, PEG seems interested in selling clients as many products and services as possible, just like convenient stores that pressure clerks to sell lighters and popcorn to gasoline customers.
For example, a different “contract for consultant services” between PEG and St. Paul schools says that the “district has deemed it necessary to retain the services of a qualified person” to perform certain services. One of the listed services is “registration for five district leaders to attend PEG national summit.”
One might expect St. Paul officials to be welcomed at the National Summit for Courageous Conversations free of charge, considering the district pays PEG six figures per year. But that’s not the case.
One conference registration document for St. Paul school employee Brenda Natala listed the cost as $895. If PEG successfully registered “five district leaders” to attend the conference, as mentioned in the contract, the district presumably paid $4,475.
And that’s only for the right to attend the conference.
“District must arrange its own transportation and lodging,” a PEG document says.
Even cancelling a registration for the conference costs money.
“Summit will apply a $100 processing fee on all approved refund requests,” another PEG document says.
That shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the sort of thing that profit-driven businesses do.