Ackerman buy-out smells different now, but still smells

It looks like the Philadelphia School District is out another $405,000. The anonymous donors who were supposed to put up close to half the money for Arlene Ackerman’s buy-out have withdrawn their pledges, leaving the district to foot the bill.

We suppose there’s a sliver of good news here. As we’ve written more than a couple of times, the plan to use funds from anonymous private sources to pay Ackerman to go – thereby helping the mayor, the chair of the School Reform Commission and the new district superintendent – was sketchy. Taxpayers were left to wonder what the donors might expect in return for their generosity. That bad deal is now off.

But you’d have to be squinting pretty hard to see something pretty in this mess. For one thing, it was the donors who called off this deal, rather than the public officials who endorsed it. Presumably the arrangement is still OK with the mayor and the SRC. Even if it’s unlikely anyone in Philly government will attempt a deal like this in the near future, the outcome doesn't inspire confidence.

A more concrete concern is that the School District is out another $405,000. Meanwhile, no sensible explanation has been offered for why Ackerman’s contract was extended in March – after the debacle at South Philly High and the revelation of a $630 million deficit – then bought out this summer. And though the district offers a coherent explanation for why it won’t try to void Ackerman’s buy-out (she may have violated the terms with unflattering remarks about school CFO Michael Masch; the district says it wants to focus its resources on the year to come), it’s still frustrating to see all that money carted off. Especially when you consider that the district announced plans to lay off 27 assistant principals today.

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