The boss is back

    Those who pay attention to newspaper bylines noticed that the lead story in Sunday’s Inquirer was co-written by  Bill Marimow, who was editor of the paper until he was removed by its new owner. It was a typically thoroughly-reported piece by Marimow, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and veteran education writer Martha Woodall, whose work on charter schools over the past two years is Pulitzer-worthy.

    This story involved Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman allegedly intervening to steer school district work to a minority firm. A spokeswoman denied Ackerman was involved. The story strongly suggests otherwise.

    Two observations:

    First, Ackerman again displayed her gift for bad public relations. If there’s nothing to hide here, she should talk to the reporters, share every relevant document and make all the school district officials involved available for interviews.

    I’ve actually seen public officials do this before. When you limit your participation in the story to a statement from a press aide, you invite the most cynical interpretations of your actions.

    Second, the great unanswered question here is Ackerman’s motivation for insisting that a chosen minority firm get this contract to install security cameras, even though another company had already begun work on the project.

    There’s no allegation of self-dealing, and I expect there will be more discussion of the elephant in the superintendent’s room – the suspicion that Ackerman, who is African-American, has a racial agenda.

    There were complaints that she responded slowly to violence against Asian-American students at South Philly High School, and there was her strange comment in an Inquirer column that former Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, an Asian American, wasn’t “culturally competent for the community she was trying to help.”

    I’m interested in what you think.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.