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Nutter, Tomalis announce new supports for District

Photo: Benjamin Herold

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Mayor Michael Nutter and state Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis unveiled Tuesday two new strategies to expand their respective roles in overseeing the School District and its leadership.

In a statement, Nutter described the strategies as "phase two" of the Educational Accountability Agreement with the District. The city and state will both name an "Executive Advisor" to work with the District’s executive office. The city will designate Chief Education Officer Lori Shorr and the state will designate Edward Williams, a longtime District veteran and former chief academic officer.

Shorr and Williams will sit in on the District’s cabinet meetings and work directly with Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery to “stabilize” a District still reeling from months of turmoil.

And a new “working group” consisting of leaders from the city’s business, education, and nonprofit sectors will review the District’s financial, operations, and contracting systems and make recommendations for reform. University of Pennsylvania Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli will chair the group, which will ultimately consist of between five and nine members appointed by the School Reform Commission.

“This will be a great team,” said Nutter.

It will also be a temporary team. Both the executive advisors and the working group are expected to remain in place only until the SRC appoints a new permanent superintendent.

“This is just an added resource to help [the District] during this time,” said Tomalis.

No specific timeline was offered for when the search for a new superintendent would begin.

“We’re not that far along,” said Nutter, who emphasized that the SRC first needs to be fully constituted. “It’s more important to get it done right than to get it done quickly.”

Only three of the five seats on the commission are currently filled. Gubernatorial nominee Pedro Ramos, who was on-hand Tuesday, has yet to be confirmed by the state Senate. The mayor recently appointed Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Wendell Pritchett to one vacant seat, but still has another appointment to make.

Leroy Nunery, who was elevated from deputy superintendent to acting superintendent following the messy departure of Arlene Ackerman, said he welcomed the new support – and scrutiny – for the District’s senior leadership.

“This has my ringing endorsement,” said Nunery.

As Nunery’s new executive advisors, Shorr and Williams will now have offices at District headquarters at 440 North Broad. Space there is ample following a massive purge of central office staff this summer, part of the District’s efforts to close a $600-plus million budget gap.

Williams was head of the District’s Office of Restructured Schools under Paul Vallas.

Shorr said she has been working closely with District leadership for the past three and a half years, but now she would be doing so in a “different way.”

“I’m excited to support Acting Superintendent Nunery as he takes us through this year,” said Shorr.

Despite recent speculation that Nutter, in particular, was looking to exert more direct oversight of his appointees on the SRC, the new executive advisors will play no formal monitoring role of the commissioners.

Instead, Williams and Shorr will be “charged with facilitating real-time, two-way communication between and among the School District, the city, and the commonwealth,” said Nutter.

Nevertheless, the mayor vowed to be more hands-on with the SRC.

“I can assure you that personally I will be more actively engaged and involved,” said the mayor.

As for the working group, its goal will be to develop recommendations aimed at helping the SRC to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the District’s back-end operations, particularly its financial operations, and contracting and personnel practices.

They will be tasked with "offering an actionable plan to the SRC regarding financial reforms and system changes at the School District," according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

Michael Masch, the District’s chief financial officer, welcomed the support and said he was confident that the District’s senior staff would give the working group their full cooperation.

But he also offered a word of caution.

“I think the private sector [folks] will be surprised to see how few resources there are here in central administration,” said Masch.

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