Friday, February 12, 2016

UPDATED: Supporters rally for Ackerman, answering state rep.

In response to state Rep. Michael McGeehan's call for the ouster of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, 100 people rallied outside district headquarters defending her.

UPDATED: Supporters rally for Ackerman, answering state rep.

State Sen. Shirley Kitchen (right) speaks out in support of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman during a rally Thursday outside Philadelphia School District headquarters (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)

In response to state Rep. Michael McGeehan's call for the ouster of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, 100 people rallied outside district headquarters defending her.

The pro-Ackerman rally took on an angry tone at times, as some speakers angrily denounced McGeehan and questioned his motives.

McGeehan, who represents parts of the Northeast, said he has hand-delivered a letter to Gov. Corbett asking for Ackerman's removal.

"Any continuation of this administration would have dire consequences for the city and the schoolchildren of Philadelphia," McGeehan, an outspoken critic of the superintendent, said at an afternoon news conference.

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Supporters rally for Ackerman, answering state rep.

Four months ago, McGeehan held another news conference to raise questions about district procurement practices and Ackerman's decision to suspend six senior executives while the district investigated leaks about the awarding of a $7.5 million no-bid emergency contract to install surveillance cameras.

"I hoped things would get better, but instead it's much worse," he said.

In his letter to the governor, McGeehan, who represents portions of Northeast Philadelphia, cited Ackerman's actions against whistleblowers, a recent Auditor General audit he termed "alarming", the superintendent's own personal tax troubles, and a federal Department of Justice report criticizing the district's handling of racial violence at South Philadelphia High as reasons she must be removed.

"With the School District of Philadelphia facing a budget shortfall of $600 million, I'm requesting that you, on behalf of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth and the school children of Philadelphia, compel the School Reform Commission to remove Superintendent Ackerman."

The superintendent's supporters pointed to continued test score gains under her leadership.  They praised Ackerman for turning around failing schools and said she has done the best job possible with limited resources.

State Rep. Jewell Williams said that McGeehan did not speak for Harrisburg's Philadelphia delegation.

"We support Dr. Ackerman and all of the work that she does," Williams said.  "We're with her 100 percent."

He said McGeehan's beef with the superintendent is personal.

"If it is a decision that he is making based on color, then he has a problem with us - the Philadelphia delegation of legislators," Williams said.

Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire said that he has had quarrels with Ackerman at times, but supports her strongly on the whole.

"McGeehan, stop messing with public education," Mondesire said, "before we have to come up to the Northeast and show you how it's really done."

Ackerman did not attend the rally, but was inside district headquarters, a spokeswoman said.

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Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

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