After 905G buyout, Ackerman is seeking unemployment check

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman addresses a rally by school district students concerned about budget cuts in front of Philadelphia School District headquarters in March 2011. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)


$905,000 in public buyout money wasn't enough.

Former Philly schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was paid that queen's ransom to leave the city, applied for unemployment benefits this month.

The school district - which agreed in her August separation agreement not to fight any unemployment claims filed by Ackerman - confirmed her application yesterday.

Considering her nearly $350,000 salary in her tumultuous final year leading the district, Ackerman will likely be eligible for $573 a week, the highest weekly benefit provided by the state. Her benefits need to be approved by the state.

"I really think it's a joke, I'm laughing," said Michael Lodise, head of the union representing the district's security officers. "With all the money she got, she still wants unemployment?"

Lodise spent more than four months battling the district over wording in layoff warnings sent to about 190 per-diem officers in June that was keeping them from collecting unemployment.

The district finally changed the wording in the notices this month to say that the officers "may not return" to their jobs, and about 120 of those officers are now collecting unemployment, Lodise said.

Dean Weitzman, Ackerman's attorney, noted that she is legally entitled to the money. He also pointed to her past charitable giving, including donating her entire final year of salary back to the district.

"If you're a millionaire and you drop $12,000 on the ground, are you wealthy enough that you don't want to reach down and pick it up?" Weitzman said.

"For all I know, she's going to contribute those funds to a charitable cause."

Although Ackerman did pay unemployment taxes, the district is self-insured and will pay all of her benefits, said spokesman Fernando Gallard.

The news of Ackerman's application comes as advocates lobby Congress to again extend unemployment benefits.

Nearly 75,000 people in Pennsylvania, and 1.8 million nationally, could lose their benefits at the end of the year if Congress doesn't act, said John Dodd, of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

Among them will be some of the thousands of former district employees laid off in June as part of plans to close a $629 million hole that opened up under Ackerman's watch. Dodd worries that such a well-paid former public employee applying for benefits could "make people hostile to the program."

"The program is vitally important to so many families," Dodd said. "It's not a great advertisement for the unemployment compensation system.

"People are not living the life of luxury on unemployment benefits. Some people have this vision of people on the Caribbean with their Corona bottles. It's not like that. It's about half your former income."

Considering that Ackerman was making more than $6,000 a week, her unemployment check would be much, much less than half her former income.

It also will be reduced from the maximum of $573 a week based on pension payments she is receiving from her 40-year education career, which included stints as superintendent in the San Francisco and Washington, D.C., public schools.

In October, she began receiving $1,290 a month for her three years of service in Philadelphia, according to the Public School Employee Retirement System.

While it may appear unseemly for such a highly paid former public employee to accept unemployment, some see it as her right.

"Regardless of what the settlement was for her to leave, she got laid off," said Carl Grant, 61, of Germantown, who has been on unemployment since last October while he works toward a degree in information technology.

"Does it make a difference if I'm a pauper or a millionaire? When I get laid off, I get laid off. I need help."

Apparently, Ackerman does too.