Philadelphia schools superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman hurts her credibility by not answering questions about the controversial awarding of a $7.5 million no-bid contract.
The Inquirer reported Sunday that Ackerman interceded to remove a contractor and instead award a project to install surveillance cameras in 19 dangerous schools to a small minority firm. The article cited unnamed sources familiar with district business operations who suggested that Ackerman failed to follow proper procedures.
The sources said Ackerman ordered key aides in September to award the $7.5 million contract to IBS, without competitive bidding. This was after another firm had been asked by her professional staff to begin the expedited work. The IBS award raises troubling questions. The firm was not on a state-approved list of contractors eligible for emergency work, and state guidelines that allow bid requirements to be waived may have been violated.
Ackerman declined two written requests for interviews from the newspaper. She also turned down a request Monday from the Editorial Board seeking comment. Instead, a written statement was released by deputy superintendent and CEO Leroy D. Nunery II. He said the district’s actions were justified to quickly stem violence at the worst of 46 persistently violent schools.
“We made decisions to expedite the process of installing cameras in 19 of the Focus 46 schools because we understood … that the potential for any type of serious incident — theft, fights, rape, etc. — could be offset if we acted quickly to correct deficiencies. Thus, we made the executive decision to do a sole-source contract for professional services as opposed to conducting a request-for-proposal process that would have taken several weeks,” said Nunery.
He confirmed that the district’s facilities and information-technology staff had been working on the cameras project with Security and Data Technologies Inc., but he said they had acted prematurely. He said IBS, with 30 years of experience, was deemed better suited to do the job. Nunery added that in a district that is 80 percent minority, IBS’s being a minority firm was also considered.
It reportedly was the second time in the last year that Ackerman directed work to IBS. On the earlier occasion, the district is said to have paid 12 times more to the Mount Airy company than the price of another contractor. District spokeswoman Shana Kemp said Ackerman personally had “nothing to do with” selecting IBS for the cameras project. But that contradicts what sources told Inquirer reporters. The superintendent herself should explain exactly how she handled this matter.