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From a parent to the SRC: An open letter

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

Today’s Daily News reports that Superintendent Arlene Ackerman automatically receives a one-year contract extension on her current five-year deal unless she or the School Reform Commission gives notice by March 1.

According to her agreement, she gets to keep her job for a sixth year, through June 2014, if neither she nor the board gives written notice by March 1 of this year of their intent not to extend her term.

The SRC’s response?

"This is a personnel matter about which the School Reform Commission has nothing to report to the media at this time," [SRC Chair Robert] Archie said in a statement.

I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman. The contract of the superintendent of public schools is not a mere personnel matter. This is not about a private review of a standard District employee. These are issues about the standards of compensation – which are clearly out of line with significantly larger school districts – and the performance objectives and direction of the School District.

The public deserves to know if the SRC intends to keep Ackerman for another three years, how the commission intends to assess her performance, and whether the terms of her contract make sense at this time.

Among my top questions:

  • Does it make sense to continue to pay the superintendent a salary that is almost as much as the mayor and governor combined – a base salary far greater than offered in districts which are significantly larger?
  • Does the SRC think it sends the right message to preserve a contract that provides for 20 percent performance bonuses, retention bonuses, and annual salary raises no matter the District’s financial state?
  • The superintendent is entitled to as many as 30 consulting days. Is this an appropriate and standard use of public dollars?
  • After last spring’s furor over the SRC’s refusal to publicly disclose the terms under which the superintendent is assessed for a performance bonus, will the right to secretive performance assessment process also remain a part of the SRC practice?

In addition, it’s worth noting that as written the superintendent’s contract states that if she is terminated “without cause” she is entitled to her full compensation package. One can assume that as of March 2011, she would therefore be entitled to three years of her contract instead of two.

I contacted Zack Stalberg, head of the good governance watchdog group Committee of 70. Stalberg called Archie’s description of the issue a “disingenuous” effort to close down inquiry into important matters that should be public discussion.

Claiming that this type of information is a “personnel” matter is deeply mistaken and a violation of the public trust. The public deserves to know, and the SRC should be providing the answers.

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