The Lookout

Philly schools chief leaves with $905k buy-out

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

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Ackerman (AP)

The city of Philadelphia is giving city schools chief Arlene Ackerman a $905,000 buy-out package to send her out the door long before her $1.5 million contract is up.

But what's proving controversial is that more than $400,000 of that sum comes from private donors who have so far remained anonymous. The city announced the payment in a brief press release yesterday.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a great story today sussing out whether it's even legal for private, anonymous donors to contribute such a large sum to the buy-out package of a public official. (Most of the experts said it seemed to be legal, but that it may not be ethical for the donors to remain anonymous.) The money will be "channeled" through a non-profit affiliated with the district, the paper reports. Ackerman sits on its board.

According to the education blog the Philadelphia Notebook, a local watchdog good government group is calling on city officials to release the donors' names. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said in a press conference yesterday that he personally solicited donations and that he thought those who wish to remain anonymous should be allowed to do so. The tactic's defenders say Ackerman was entitled to up to $1.5 million by being forced out early, and that private donations will ease taxpayers' burden.

"The [School Reform Commission]--and maybe Governor Corbett and Mayor Nutter--may think they're doing the taxpayers a favor by finding a secret donor to finance part of the severance deal. But secrecy has huge potential downsides," Zack Stalberg of the Committee of Seventy watchdog group told the Philadelphia Notebook.

Meanwhile, the previous city schools chief Paul Vallas, who received a comparably modest sum of $180,000 when he left in 2007, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the large payout is "unconscionable."

"If you are going to raise $400,000 in private money, give it to a school, for crying out loud," he said.

While district test scores have been steadily improving under Ackerman's tenure, she faced controversy after a state investigation flagged 28 schools for possible cheating on tests. The district says it looked into the claims and that only 13 schools merit further investigation to ensure no cheating occurred. Last month, Ackerman laid off 1,000 teachers due to budget cuts. For the complete rundown on her tenure and buy-out negotiations, check out this thorough article in the Philadelphia Notebook.

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