Ackerman and the SRC have been too cozy

A proposed amendment to city schools Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman’s contract was never approved by the School Reform Commission, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant.

The fact that she asked for more six-figure bonuses, to be invested in an annuity, free lifetime health care, and four more vacation days provides more ammunition to those who are convinced Ackerman is too self-centered to lead city schools.

City Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman

While the SRC didn’t approve the request made last year, one can’t help but believe that Ackerman thought she had a good chance of getting what she wanted, which is another sign that her relationship with her bosses has become too cozy.

Ackerman’s base salary of $348,140 already makes her one of the highest-paid schools chiefs in the country. And even last year, it was apparent that a budget crisis might be looming, with federal stimulus money drying up and the prospect of a miserly Republican governor being elected. Yet, she asked for more.

The document revealing Ackerman’s proposed contract amendment was released as part of the new education accountability agreement allowing Mayor Nutter to keep closer tabs on the district in exchange for additional funds from the city’s coffers.

The district laid off more than 2,700 employees and ordered deep program cuts to help close a $629 million budget gap. More cuts could come this week.

A School District attorney said the document revealing the contract changes Ackerman sought should not have been released by the city. But he is wrong. The public has a right to know the behind-the-scenes details concerning the expenditure of public funds.

Release of the information, though, has further damaged Ackerman’s credibility to the point that a growing number are asking whether she should move on before her contract expires in 2014. Her poor reputation hurt efforts to get the legislature to provide more relief to city schools.

But if Ackerman is the bad guy, she has had an accomplice in the SRC, which too often has acted like a rubber stamp rather than the assertive body it was meant to be. That has to change, no matter who is superintendent.

It’s time for Nutter and Gov. Corbett to consider the alternatives, for the children’s sake.