This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Several top Philadelphia leaders addressed a rally on the steps of School District headquarters Thursday afternoon to support Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and say "No way" to State Rep. Michael McGeehan’s call for her ouster.
"We stand with Dr. Ackerman because she is what is best for children in this school district," said Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME Church. "We’re standing with Dr. Ackerman because under her leadership test scores have consistently gone up year after year, failing schools are turning around…and she’s demonstrated that charters and public schools can work together and co-exist side by side and be in the best interest of our children."
A news release from McGeehan’s office cited "many controversies [that] are fodder for negative press, which only serves to distract district employees, parents, and the public from the real task at hand: educating our children."
But State Senator Vincent Hughes said the real distractions are not the controversies that have swirled around Ackerman for the past several months, but rather the calls for her dismissal.
"The conversation about trying to remove Dr. Ackerman, I’m telling you brothers and sisters, is a distraction," Hughes said. "It’s purposeful and it’s to take us off the mark in terms of securing the appropriate funding to get the education that our children deserve. We should be gathering on this moment, but we should be gathering trying to figure out how we’re going to get the $600 million in cuts that Gov. Corbett has proposed put back in the budget for the School District of Philadelphia."
At Wednesday’s School Reform Commission planning meeting, District Chief Financial Officer Michael Masch said District will have to dip into $25 million in reserves to balance the budget for this school year and will have to make a variety of heavy cuts in the areas of personnel and programs to make up for next year’s huge shortfall.
Other speakers at the rally included NAACP President Jerry Mondesire, State Senator Shirley Kitchen, Urban League of Philadelphia President Patricia Coulter, State Representative Jewell Williams, and Mothers in Charge President Dorothy Johnson-Speight – all of whom praised Ackerman for helping to turn around some of the District’s lowest performing schools and doing so with limited resources. Ackerman did not attend the rally.
At the news conference, McGeehan said he hand-delivered to Gov. Corbett’s office a letter citing a laundry list of reasons why Ackerman should be terminated. They included questionable procurement practices, her actions against whistleblowers, the District’s handling of racial violence at South Philadelphia High School, and the federal tax liens she now faces.