Former Philadelphia schools superintendent Arlene Ackerman is the center of a firestorm this week after she accepted a roughly $1 million buyout from the city and then promptly filed for unemployment benefits. The outrage over the unemployment claim may be better directed at the school district’s handing out obscene salaries and buyouts.
School District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed that Ackerman has demanded state unemployment benefits and , as part of her $905,000 buyout, the School Reform Commission agreed not to contest any unemployment claims she might file.
The buyout reportedly included $500,000 from the district and $405,000 from anonymous private contributions. I wonder how the private donors feel about the money going to a person who still files unemployment claims after pocketing a cool million.
Ackerman’s tenure has been described as a “tumultuous and sometimes-turbulent reign.” While there were improvements in some scores of the students, there is an expanding cheating scandal in the schools and Ackerman was criticized for not responding effectively to allegations of widespread harassment of Asian students by African-American students at one of the largest high schools. She was also criticized for intervening in a security contract to give the contract to a minority company over the company that had prevailed in the bidding process. With such controversies and a growing budget crisis, Ackerman was reportedly stripped of her powers before agreeing to the windfall buyout. A website was created to advocate her removal.
Ackerman took a confrontational approach to critics and dared the Board to fire her. In one public event, she declared “Sentence me. I dare you. Or set me free. But I admit to you today that I am guilty. Guilty of just being me.” [With a million dollars as the punishment, I would dare my employer to fire me as well. Indeed, I am pretty ticked off that none of you has offered one cent in private donations toward my termination.]
The buyout was made larger by the fact that the district recently extended the contract term from 2013 to 2014. They then moved to remove her. I think the unemployment benefits are somewhere down on the list of things in the controversy to be outraged over.