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Edison buyout draws Ire in Florida.

This past fall, Florida teachers found themselves in a strange alliance. Sunshine State teachers, via their state pension plan, became the new owners of Edison Schools. The Florida Retirement System purchased the Edison business, which includes school management, charter schools, summer and after-school programs and achievement management solutions has 20 states, for $180 million in November 2003. The buyout does not give teachers any direct involvement in the Edison business nor does it affect the company's 130 full-year schools and 200 summer schools nationwide. The sole purpose of the deal is to add to the retirement system's coffers.

Edison Schools and Liberty Partners, the investment firm that manages FRS, cooked up the buyout without consulting Florida teachers. Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, questions the wisdom of spending $180 million on a company with "a terrible track record." Edison did not turn a profit until June 2003, when it reported a $10 million quarterly profit.

The flip side is that the outlook for school privatization is excellent, and the purchase of the company will make money for the pension fund. FRS administrators plan to sell the company for a profit in the future. The time for re-selling Edison depends on profitability and the market for education management solutions. The plan could succeed. When Edison was on the market, more than 10 buyers wanted to purchase the company. Adam Tucker, spokesperson for Edison Schools, points out, "It's in everybody's best interest for Edison to be successful."

If Edison succeeds, the biggest beneficiary may be company founder and CEO, Christopher Whittle, not Florida teachers. That's because Whittle remains CEO and could earn tap to $28.6 million over five years in options and pay--on top of a six-figure salary. Whittle receives bonus pay and options if Edison performs "extremely well"--which has not been explained in detail yet--in academic progress and financial performance.

Whether or not teachers make out financially on the deal, Pudlow says it sends a poor message to teachers. While Florida is cutting programs such as summer schools and teacher aides, the state is taking $180 million of the teachers' money to buy a company that peddles solutions that threaten public schools. "To spend $180 million on Edison Schools is a slap in the face," Pudlow says.

Edison's Christopher Whittle

Current position: CEO, Edison Schools

Former position: CEO, Channel One

Potential salary over next five years: $28.6M

Edison's 1999 IPO generated: $122.4M

No. of schools: 149

No. of students: 132,000

No. of states: 20

www.edisonscnools.com
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Title Annotation:Update: education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Fratt, Lisa
Publication:District Administration
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:423
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