Friday, August 26, 2011

Arlene Ackerman: Serial Golden Paratrooper

If memory serves, Arlene Ackerman was chased out of San Francisco Unified with her tail between her legs, but also with a hefty golden parachute. Now Philly is set to do the same. This week the Philadelphia School Reform Commission unanimously approved a buyout for former Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman worth nearly $1 million, according to

In order to get rid of their excess baggage, Philadelphia will have to pay Ackerman $500,000 in district funds. She will also get health and life insurance through June 2013 and a check for her unused sick and vacation time. The value of the insurance and unpaid leave has not been disclosed. However, she will also receive $405,000 in private, anonymous donations funneled through a nonprofit with ties to the Philadelphia School District. The Kansas City Star reported this week that Pennsylvania State Auditor General Jack Wagner plans to investigate the unusual arrangement. Could Ackerman have a secret admirer in the Billionaire Boys Club?

Her supporters are calling her ousting a “lynching,” blaming it on racism because she gave a large district contract to a black vendor, or because she did not “kiss the right political behinds.” However, not kissing the right political behinds is the usual reason for ousting an administrator, regardless of race. It is in the job description’s extra fine print. And the problem with her deal with the black vendor was not race, but the fact that the vendor, IBS Communications, got a $7.5 million no-bid contract despite previous work with the district that involved cost overruns 12 times what they had originally estimated. 

Ackerman’s tenure in Philadelphia was a virtual replay of her stint in San Francisco, with similar incompetence and corruption, but a much more lucrative exit plan. As superintendent of SFUSD, she scored herself a $250,000 salary, plus a $2,000-a-month housing allowance and $375,000 severance package, payable even if she quit. As superintendent, she pretended to clean up SFUSD’s muddy books and the scandals of the Bill Rojas years, yet somehow missed Trish Bascom’s embezzlement scheme, probably because of her obsession with quashing dissent. She spent $400,000 a year on a PR firm to put a positive spin on her autocratic and unpopular leadership.

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