Ackerman Out

After a tumultuous summer -- actually, a tumultuous year -- Arlene Ackerman is out as superintendent of the Philadelphia School District.

Ackerman arrived in June 2008. Her payout after three years and change: $905,000 to walk away, of which $405,000 is coming from anonymous private donations.

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Yes, it's great taxpayers don't have to foot almost half the bill, but is this really what successful people should be doing with their money to help our children? What about the feckless School Reform Commission, which ostensibly supervises the superindent and district, which extended Ackerman's contract even with a whopping budget crater (now at more than $650 million) and her disastrous oversight on school violence, especially at South Philadelphia High?

As I wrote in Sunday's column,

"This may be a perfect teaching moment in Philadelphia politics. Here we have another weak, kowtowing board overrun by an imperious autocrat who fosters a cult of personality, a reactive mayor unwilling to take control of the problem, and the permanent power establishment working behind the scenes to fix a problem the board made in the first place."

It's odd we're having private donations used to pay off a public official's contract. As I wrote, "Are the donations ethical when the district is in such trouble that it's asking teachers and other workers' unions to make $75 million in concessions? Shouldn't the money go to students first, teachers second, and the superintendent maybe never?

" 'In a way, this is a political contribution,' says legal ethicist and Penn professor emeritus Geoffrey Hazard. 'This is a de-election campaign," adding, "What they're really doing is rescuing the school board from its own folly.' "

So, the drama is all over for now. Better yet, her attorney says the negotiations over her departure were "amicable" and that Ackerman will contribute the money from her contract's final year to the district's Promise Academies. Very nice, touching, and some of that money will be recirculated.

Next up is making the board stronger and the mayor and governor more involved to strengthen support, leadership, funding and vision.

--Karen Heller