Wild SRC meeting; Jordan calls for Ackerman's ouster

Gloria Thomas, a parent of a high school student in West Philadelphia, addresses the meeting of the School Reform Commission Wednesday. She said she is a supporter of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)

UPDATE, 4:10 p.m.

Just received this statement from the district: "The School Reform Commission remains committed to working with Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as stated under her employment agreement with the School District of Philadelphia."

What that terse statement doesn't address, of course, is how long that commitment will remain.

UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry T. Jordan just told me that "as long as that superintendent is in place we will not discuss concessions." The district is banking on $75 million in givebacks from its five unions.  The PFT has long said it will not negotiate; Jordan's statement that the PFT won't negotiate givebacks as long as Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman is in place is a new wrinkle.

Jordan also called for Ackerman's ouster.  "I think that it’s time for new leadership at the school district," he said. Jordan also said that the PFT had not been informed of the decision to cut back Promise Academies prior to Wednesday's SRC meeting, and the district has not told the union how the changes will affect members.  So teachers who were force transferred because their schools were to become Promise Academies but now aren't going to become Promise Academies are still in limbo.  Jordan said he believed those teachers should get a choice on whether they want to stay at their old schools or move elsewhere, but nothing official yet.

No statement yet from SRC Chairman Archie on the superintendent.  More to come on that; keep checking back here and on Twitter @newskag.

Update, 1 p.m.

Embattled Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman said she wants to remain as chief of the Philadelphia School District, saying she was passionate about giving back to students.  But, she acknowledged, "I have to have the support of the people who hired me.  But I am going to fight," she said.  She also said that she's "really not sorry that I'm not a politician.  I am an educator.  I'm not going to back down."  She also told reporters to ask those who hired her - namely, the School Reform Commission, if she still had their support. 

Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr., who has been a staunch supporter, said: "Dr. Ackerman has a contract, which the SRC extended for an additional year Her contract is not even up.  She has another year, until 2014." Commissioner Johnny Irizarry declined to comment.  A district spokeswoman said Archie will issue a statement on the subject later today, so check back here.

Promise Academies will be dramatically scaled back, with only three new schools joining the turnaround program this year, instead of the planned 11.  The three are West Philadelphia High, Germantown High and Martin Luther King High.  The six existing Promise Academies will remain in the program, but all Promise Academies will lose Saturday school and one day of an extended school day per week.  There will be less money for central office Promise Academy support, and instead of extra professional development for all Promise Academy teachers, only teachers at the new Promise Academies will get the extra training.  The move saves the Philadelphia School District about $18 million.

The audience at a special School Reform Commission meeting Wednesday exploded when Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch announced this - mostly pro-Promise Academy folks angry that the program's being scaled back, but also someone angry about Dr. Ackerman's salary.  The meeting was paused until the audience calmed down; security came to stand at the back of the meeting but did not remove anyone. Still, it was a raucous meeting, with people standing up, clapping, waving hands and shouting out.

Promise Academies are Ackerman's signature initiative.  "We'd love to keep them," Archie said after the meeting.  "We just don't have the money."  He suggested that parents who angrily denounced the SRC's move to cut back Promise Academies to go the district's funders in Harrisburg and City Hall. 

Masch also announced that more cuts will be made to close a $35 million budget gap that is in addition to the $629 million gap already closed with layoffs and deep trims to programs and school budgets.  More school nurses will be cut; the district's central book budget will be cut; there will be less money for in-school suspension programs and a reduction of the Parent University budget by $500,000.  Two Parent Resource Centers will be closed - four will remain - and a regional Early Childhood Education Center pilot will be cut.

The district has put Masch's full presentation - with lots of detail - online.  You can see it here.


A special meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission is scheduled for today at 10 a.m.  (Find the agenda here.)

Planned is a financial matter - a bond resolution - and a presentation from Michael Masch, the district's Chief Financial Officer, who's expected to give an update on the "gap-closing plan."  A $629 million budget gap was closed early this summer with much pain - more than 2,700 layoffs, and big cuts to programs and school budgets.  A new, $35-million shortfall has been subsequently announced though, and the district has yet to say how it will find the money to plug that hole.  The district is legally obligated to have a balanced budget, and arrived at the $35 million gap because the state declined to give the district funds district officials had been planning on.

Speakers are also expected to testify before the SRC on general topics, and we don't yet know how many will appear or what topics they'll speak about. Though the list of speakers is not yet public, I would imagine some will talk about Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, whose departure has been the subject of much speculation over the past month.  Her spokespeople have said that the superintendent wants to stay, but Ackerman hasn't addressed the matter herself since the SRC's last special meeting July 1.  A spokeswoman said yesterday that Ackerman planned on attending this meeting.

(By the way, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' president Jerry T. Jordan just said on the local Fox morning show that Ackerman should resign, by the way...)

I'll post more as I have it.  Follow along here, or on Twitter, where I'm @newskag.