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Listen to this audio essay:




Controversy Over Ackerman Buyout

By Ryan Frascella, Josh Kauffman, Noah Rayon, Bach Tong


Despite the fact Arlene Ackerman has been bought out of her contract and removed from her position by the School Reform Commission (SRC), the controversy over her SRC buyout is far from over. Ackerman, who was ousted on Monday, was paid a total of $905,000 in taxpayer money and funds from private donors to break her five-year contract and abdicate her position as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia (SDP).


At the SRC meeting on Wednesday at the SDP headquarters at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, the second half of the meeting served as a screaming session, with the audience demonstrating ardent support of Ackerman, while the four-member SRC took the brunt of criticism.


Among the topics of the speakers was the SRC's secrecy over the identity of the private donors who contributed $405,000 to Ackerman's buyout. Speaking at the meeting, State Representative Curtis Thomas, echoed the outrage felt by the community. "We need to know where that $405,000 came from. If they can't give us that information then they have no reason to sit," referring to the SRC.


In addition, members of the community were dissatisfied with the public statements from Mayor Michael Nutter regarding the situation, claiming that he take more responsibility for assisting in the removal of Dr. Ackerman from her post.


Many speakers pointed to race as a major reason for the removal of Dr. Ackerman and the state of public education in Philadelphia. Emmauel Bussie, speaking for the community at the meeting, said, "Black administrator, black president, black CEO... the rules are always different when black folk are involved." Bussie would also go onto talk about the fact that Dr. Ackerman was seen as divisive because many high powered men did not enjoy having a woman lead the district and used their political power to strong-arm her out of her position.


Ackerman is no stranger to controversy, having gone through many disputes during her three-year reign as superintendent. These included having to account for a missing $1 million dollars, her handling of racially motivated violence at South Philadelphia High School, and battling with disgruntled teachers and the teachers union. Dr. Ackerman claims her undoing was her handling of the recent $650 million dollar budget crisis, in which she was considering full-day kindergarten and discontinuing transportation for students. She battled with Nutter over many of these issues and how she decided to allocate resources.


Dr. Ackerman's tenure has yielded some positives for the district. Test scores have increased every year, graduation rates have increased 7% over the past three years, and despite the incident at South Philadelphia High School, many in the district believe violence has decreased. She also began Parent University, involving over 40,000 parents in continuing education programs, and getting them involved in their children's education.


While Dr. Ackerman's tenure has been extremely action packed, she was frequently met with political difficulty. Her achievements in schools endeared her to the community, but her contentious political relationships may have caused her undoing. This was certainly the sentiment shared with the SRC at Wednesday's meeting.



Watch more 2011 videos by WHYY's Young Journalists »