GIVEN the outrage that is sure to greet the news that ousted schools chief Arlene Ackerman has filed for unemployment, we're almost afraid to say this, but here it is: We can't help admiring her . . . just a little.

The same way we admire the guy who kills his parents and then begs the court for leniency based on the fact that he's now an orphan.

Since exiting her job in August, Ackerman has confounded her critics and enemies - first by negotiating a buyout worth nearly $1 million after just three years on the job, plus another $86,000 in unused vacation days. Most thought she'd leave town the minute she got that check, but she has stayed local and has started becoming a vocal advocate for school vouchers, a rather jaw-dropping position for the former head of the 13th-largest public-school district in the country.

And now this: filing for unemployment. Why does this stick in our craw? For one thing, it's so . . . petty. The maximum amount of compensation anyone can collect is $573 per week. When she was working at the district for her salary of $346,000, $573 paid for about 3 1/2 hours of her time.

And since the district is self-insured, it picks up 100 percent of the tab. In other words, we do.

Maybe that's what's so disturbing about her action. Her $1 million buyout package might have been a way to stick it to the district. But that apparently wasn't enough - so it was time to stick it to district again - or rather, to us.

What also bugs us is the Marie Antoinette-ness of her action; these days, unemployment compensation is the only thing keeping many people from going hungry or homeless. Her insistence on claiming this relative pittance sounds a very sour note.

Then again, her political tin ear has always been one of her strongest qualities.