Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Arlene Ackerman

Former Philly school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman gave a $7.5 million no-bid contract to cronies at IBS Communications to install surveillance cameras. IBS was given the no-bid contract despite previous work with the district that involved cost overruns 12 times what they had originally estimated.  She then scapegoated underlings for the scandal and squeezed the Philadelphia school board for a $900,000 buyout package to get her to resign and go away.

Now, in a civil-rights lawsuit, John Byars, the school district’s former head procurement officer, is saying Ackerman personally directed the awarding of the IBS contract and tried to pin it on him, according to Philly.com. He is also accusing the district of suspending him and trying to fire him for speaking to the FBI about the matter. Five other administrators were also disciplined in the scandal. Ackerman continues to deny directing anyone to give the contract to IBS.

While four of the six administrators who had been suspended were ultimately allowed back to work, Philly.com reports that Francis X. Dougherty, former deputy chief business officer, has filed papers indicating that he plans to sue for wrongful termination under the state's whistle-blower law. Augustine Pescatore, a School Safety commander who was suspended and allowed back to work filed documents in Court indicating he also plans to sue Ackerman for slander and libel.

Ackermen’s corrupt and autocratic stint in Philadelphia was no mere aberration in an otherwise stellar career. In San Francisco, Ackerman secured herself a $250,000 salary, plus a $2,000-a-month housing allowance and $375,000 severance package, payable even if she quit, which she was forced to do not long after taking over. As superintendent of SFUSD she pretended to clean up the district’s sloppy financial records and the scandals of the Bill Rojas years, while completely missing Trish Bascom’s embezzlement scheme going on right under her nose. This blunder was no doubt due to her obsession with quashing dissent and getting her underlings to toe the line. “I can’t continue to tolerate the dissension,” she said about her SFUSD staff and teachers.  Part of her strategy for reducing dissent was to spend $400,000 a year of district money on a PR firm to put a positive spin on her leadership, money that should have gone to classroom instruction.

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