Leaders of the Philadelphia school system still aren’t talking about their decision to pay departed superintendent Arlene Ackerman a $905,000 separation payment from public funds. But one civic watchdog says the public deserves some answers.
The School Reform Commission, which governs the district, issued a statement late Wednesday saying anonymous donors had backed out of pledges to help with Ackerman’s buyout, so taxpayers will fund the whole payment. And the commission has decided not to pursue a legal claim that Ackerman violated her separation agreement by publicly criticizing the district’s finance chief.
But Zack Stalberg, president of the watchdog group the Committee of Seventy, said in an interview it appears to him the commission might have a case against Ackerman, and SRC members should explain their rationale.
He said the SRC may have just wanted to end the whole episode
“It also may be that Ackerman has a lot more tell, and they want her to keep her mouth shut about everything else,” Stalberg said.
SRC Chairman Robert Archie has yet to explain the deal–at the SRC’s public meetings or to reporters. The district’s statement said only that it’ resources should be devoted to the new school year.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who recruited private donors to help fund nearly half of the buyout, had little to say Thursday when reporters asked if he regretted seeking the donations.
“Hindsight is always 20-20 vision. It’s a whole lotta woulda-coulda-shoulda,” Nutter said. “A payment has been made. We know what the amount is. We know it’s now all public dollars, and we all just need to turn that page, and we need to open a new chapter of education here in Philadelphia.”
Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner had been investigating the private, anonymous donations. It’s not clear if funding the buyout completely with tax dollars makes that moot.