PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – With school starting in less than three weeks, a power struggle is fully underway at Philadelphia School District headquarters over the future of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
Appearing for the first time in public in over a week, Ackerman vowed to stay on the job, even though she apparently no longer has the support of School Reform Commission chairman Robert Archie.
“The chairman of the SRC does not support Dr. Ackerman returning,” said state senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), who’s also a friend and supporter of Ackerman. “If they want to [replace Ackerman], they should have done this before they extended her contract, and offered her a bonus.”
Ackerman has been under fire for months over her management of the school district’s $600 million budget shortfall, but until this month she appeared to have the support of the SRC. That appeared to change August 3, when commission members heard a plan to drastically scale back the number of new “Promise Academies” this school year. “Promise Academies” are one of Ackerman’s signature programs where the district invests more money in failing schools to turn them around.
Word of the program cut fueled speculation that Ackerman’s decision-making power has been curtailed, and after that meeting, she didn’t appear to have a definitive answer for reporters who asked how long she planned to stay on the job.
Since then, Ackerman was absent from several high-profile appearances, including another School Reform Commission meeting on August 10, fueling speculation that she might soon be ousted by that board.
“I am superintendent of schools,” she told reporters Wednesday morning, emerging briefly from school district headquarters. “I’m going to stay until I can’t stay any more.”
Ackerman stepped outside to greet a small group of people who gathered in front of the district’s headquarters building to rally their support of Ackerman. Those supporters burned Wednesday’s edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer which featured a front-page article about her recent absences.
“The Inquirer is a racist rag!” shouted one of them, community activist Sacaree Rhodes.
Ackerman told reporters she’s been absent because she’s battling asthma, and she believes she still has the support of the SRC.
“As far as I know they support me,” she said. “Until they don’t anymore, I’m going to be superintendent of schools.”
But still, Ackerman spent two hours Wednesday meeting behind closed doors with supporters in the legislative black caucus to map out a plan to move forward. Those politicians say they will send a letter requesting a meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and SRC chairman Robert Archie.
Under her contract which runs until June 2014, Ackerman could be paid up to $1.5 million to walk away now from her job as Philadelphia superintendent. State senator Williams told reporters that there have been talks for a buy out.
“I think there have been conversations clearly by people who are interested in having her removed, and they’re very broad but they have not been with her directly,” he said.
SRC Chairman Archie was unavailable for an interview Wednesday. A spokesman said he’s on vacation but the statement he read at last week’s SRC meeting still stands. That statement said in part: “The School Reform Commission is committed to continue to work with the Superintendent. Consequently, we will not participate in speculating on her future employment with the District.”
Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3