NEW YORK (AP) _ A for-profit company is being brought in to run the five worst-rated schools in the nation's largest public school system under a plan adopted by the New York City Board of Education.

Edison Schools Inc. could take over the schools beginning next fall, Schools Chancellor Howard O. Levy said Wednesday.

Parents of students at the affected schools would have to vote to convert the schools to charter schools and let Edison institute its management, curriculum and instructional system.

If parents vote against the Edison takeover, the Board of Education would remain in control.

Students, teachers and administrators would have the option to stay at the Edison schools or go elsewhere, Levy said. Edison could hire new teachers who are not union members, but Edison officials have said they would work closely with the teachers union.

About 5,000 students would be enrolled if all five proposed schools are turned over to the private company. Three of the schools are middle schools in Brooklyn and one is an elementary school in Manhattan. The other school is kindergarten through eighth grade in the Bronx.

The proposal to privatize five schools in New York is smaller in scope than programs under way in Baltimore, Hartford, Conn., and Dallas, but would likely attract attention because New York has the nation's largest public school system with 1.1 million students.

Edison, the largest for-profit school management company in the country, was founded in 1991. It operates 79 public schools in 16 states and with a total enrollment of 38,000.

Most Edison Schools operate under management contracts from school districts to help improve student performance. About a third of them are charter schools, in which Edison is accountable to community sponsors _ usually parents and teachers.

Charter schools are publicly funded but are allowed to operate free of most state and district rules.

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