Lawmaker: On Phila. SD, a tipping point

     With so much attention fixed on budgets - both state, city and Philadelphia School District - other news has gotten lost in the shuffle.

     But it’s worth noting that last week, legislation advanced in Harrisburg that would directly impact the district.  State Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.), a vocal critic of  Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman and the district, is the author of two amendments, one restricting bonus and other “ancillary incentive” payments for superintendents of distressed school districts, and one mandating the state Auditor General audit distressed districts every four years and notify the Department of Education if fiscal irregularities are found.  (There are only two distressed districts in the state at the moment - Philadelphia and Duquesne.) 

     McGeehan and others have taken aim at Ackerman’s salary - nearly $350,000 in cash compensation annually, not including bonuses and other perks.  She will be paid an additional $100,000 this Thursday as a retention bonus.  (Ackerman has said that given the district’s current fiscal problems, she will defer - but not forego - the bonus.) 

     Ackerman’s compensation is “excessive,” said McGeehan, who has called for Ackerman’s ouster.  “At a time when we are severely constrained on the state and local level, any additional money should be spent in the classroom.”

      More fiscal checks and balances are needed, McGeehan said.

     The second amendment “is another level of oversight, and frankly, a mechanism where the state could suspend appropriation until the district could defend how they were spending the money, if they found something wrong,” McGeehan said.

     It’s certainly not a lock, and the clock is ticking on the current legislative session, but McGeehan is hopeful that the bill will attract the Senate’s attention.

     “We’re rushing to a budget deadline - is it a priority?  Is it part of the housecleaning?  It could be.  Being a Republican bill in the Republican-controlled House and Senate improves its chances exponentially,” McGeehan said.

     McGeehan attached amendments to legislation sponsored by Republican Duane Milne (R., Chester) that would require more transparency from local Intermediate Units, bodies responsible for countywide educational services.

    The Philadelphia School District situation has reached a tipping point, McGeehan said.

    “For the last eight months, people have been approaching me in the floor and in the hallways and saying, this is wild, what is going on with your school district? I think my colleagues have finally had enough,” he said.

     The amendments passed the House and could be taken up by the Senate.