Is Philadelphia the most corrupt big city in America? See School Reform Commission.

Philadelphia’s chief integrity officer Joan Markman has released a chilling report on the threats and intimidation used by elected and appointed officials to dislodge an out-of town contractor who had won a 5-year, $60 million contract from the School District of Philadelphia to operate a charter school. As the chairman of the School Reform Commission Robert Archie told the contractor whom he was trying to replace with another provider, “Philadelphia doesn’t operate by the usual rules. Things are different here.”

Then state representative Dwight Evans proceeded to tell the contractor which had won the contract to operate Martin Luther King High School in an open and transparent process, that unless it surrendered the contract to a different provider he favored, he would withhold community support to insure the high school’s failure, and even open a competing high school if he had to. Representative Evans was prepared to sacrifice the high school and its students rather than have it operated by a contractor chosen by the School Reform Commission in an open process on the recommendation of the School Advisory Committee of Martin Luther King High School.

That meeting between Archie, Evans, and the contractor on March 16, 2011, was arranged by then deputy school superintendent Leroy Nunery without the knowledge of superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Nunery later described Evans’ threats to the contractor as “like a scene from The Godfather.” The contractor appeared to be visibly shaken after the meeting, and later described himself as “in shock.” The next day he sent an e-mail to Archie and Ackerman saying his company was giving up the Martin Luther King High School contract it had won.

Archie and Evans then met with superintendent Ackerman to pressure her to replace the resigned contractor with the organization they favored and were connected to. But the School Advisory Committee at MLK was lobbying Ackerman to restore the original contractor they and the School Reform Commission had selected. Ackerman refused to support the second contractor supported by Archie and Evans. She reported the pressure she was under to Mayor Nutter, but received no support from the mayor.

In a footnote, chief integrity officer Markman notes that Ackerman reported receiving a threat that if she didn’t agree to the second contractor, information about her personal tax problems would be made public. On April 12, the local Fox News affiliate reported that Ackerman owed over $20,000 to the IRS, and this report was then picked up and reported by other media outlets. Archie forwarded one such report to a friend with the comment that Ackerman didn’t understand that friendship must be reciprocated.

Archie also forwarded e-mail urging continued pressure on SAC members opposing the replacement contractor, which noted of one member that “she works at MLK.”

A Dwight Evans aide sent Archie negative news reports about earlier projects of the first contractor. Although Archie received them after the first contractor had resigned, he cited them as a reason for preferring the second contractor.

Arlene Ackerman was fired by the School Reform Commission under chairman Robert Archie last month. Her contract was bought out for $900,000 taxpayer dollars plus another $100,000 for unused vacation and sick leave.

Robert Archie resigned as chairman of the School Reform Commission on September 19, 2011, along with one other member of the commission also appointed by Mayor Nutter.

Deputy superintendent Leroy Nunary is now the acting superintendent for the Philadelphia School District in charge of the education of 150,000 Philadelphia public school students. Martin Luther King High School has not been converted to a charter school as planned.

Representative Dwight Evans characterizes his actions to replace the properly selected contractor with his own favored contractor as “like a dog on a bone.”

Mayor Nutter is headed for re-election by a landslide to a second term as mayor this November. Business as usual in Philadelphia. 

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