While the School Reform Commission is cutting programs and spending by nearly $100 million this summer, the commissioners are also quietly negotiating a payment agreement for outgoing schools chief Paul Vallas, sources confirmed yesterday.
"Vallas' lawyers are trying to go higher, and the SRC is trying to go lower," said a school district source who asked for anonymity.
On July 1, Vallas will start his new job as superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District. He is on vacation until then and could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"I have no information on the discussions between the School Reform Commission and Mr. Vallas on this subject," said Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the school district.
But Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter said he was concerned that Vallas was in line to receive anything. He said he had heard that Vallas could leave with as much as $500,000.
"How a district that has a hundred-plus million dollar deficit could give anybody any extra money is beyond me," Nutter said yesterday at an anti-budget cut rally in front of city's Municipal Services Building in Center City. "You can not get a bonus if you leave a place in fiscal distress.
"This is not some corporate situation where you walk away with stock options," Nutter continued. "This is a school district. There are kids who don't have reading material, they don't have librarians in the library, they don't have art and music. Now, some adult is going to walk away with half a million dollars on top of a couple hundred thousand dollars in salary - this is outrageous."
Reform commission Chairman James Nevels was tight-lipped about Vallas' severance package. When asked if he was to receive $500,000, Nevels said: "That's incorrect. I don't know what he's going to get, but he's not going to get that."
Vallas announced in April that he was leaving. His contract extension - signed last August - would have kept him on the job until at least 2009.
The contract states that if he resigns prior to the end of the agreement he will be paid his salary through his last day on the job, "but will forfeit his remaining compensation and all other further payments, contributions and benefits accruing under this agreement."
During the rally, parents, students and activists decried the budget cuts that the reform commission approved last month. "These budget cuts . . . are not in the best interest of the kids, they are not in the best interest of preparing our public schools to be places where people want to . . . send their kids," Jerry Jordan, chief of staff of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, told the spirited protesters.
Maxi Rushum said she was upset that reform commission members charge "power lunches" to the district while the lunches served at her child's school, John Whittier Elementary, "aren't fit for an animal. No vegetables, nothing of substance. Just sugar, sugar, sugar."
During the reform commission's regular meeting yesterday community members implored the commissioners to save money by not renewing the contracts of six management organizations that have run 41 low-performing schools for the last five years. Those contracts end June 30. (Three of the 41 schools will be closing.)
Though expected to make a decision during the meeting, the commissioners delayed the vote until next Wednesday to give themselves and the public more time to study three proposals - one of them submitted yesterday by reform-commission member Sandra Dungee Glenn.
She proposed that 21 schools that are improving, plus three high schools with specialized missions, be kept under private management for one year. The schools returned to district management would receive the funding that would have gone to their management firms to help upgrade teaching and learning .
Last week school-district Chief Academic Officer Gregory Thornton proposed two other options. One is to keep 29 schools under private management organizations. The other is to keep 38 schools under private contract for a year at a reduced per-student rate of $500 instead of $750. During the year, the reform commission would work out a long-term plan for the 38 schools.
As part of the budget cuts, the commission has reduced the maximum it will pay the management organizations in the upcoming school year, from $18 million to $12 million. The managers are Edison Schools Inc., Victory Schools Inc., Foundations Inc., Universal Companies, Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.
Also yesterday, at the first of two evening budget hearings scheduled for this month, the reform commission heard from parents who want parents to be given a voice in decision-making.
"There is a lot of anger at the grassroots level," said parent Anne LaBrum, whose children attend Meredith Elementary in Queen Village. "It's in your interest to bring parents to the table."
About 45 people attended the 6 p.m. meeting, including author Shahrazad Ali, who spoke of the need to keep physical education, art and music in the schools.
Nevels gave the audience a bit of good news when he revealed that the state Senate may be ready to approve the extra $54 million the district requested to help balance the 2007-08 budget.
Nevels added that the next time the commission members go to Harrisburg to lobby, he'd like to bring a contingent of parents along. *
Staff writer Valerie Russ contributed to this report