Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This One Goes To 11: Philly Schools Superintendent Applies for Unemployment Benefit

Lots of talk radio outrage over former Philadelphia Schools Superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, who applied for - and will apparently receive - unemployment benefits after accepting a $900K buy-out from the district. Cue the outrageous outrage:

Former Philadelphia schools superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was given a nearly $1-million buyout earlier this year, has applied for unemployment. 
School District spokesman Fernando Gallard today confirmed that Ackerman wants to collect state unemployment benefits. 
“The former superintendent did apply for unemployment,” Gallard told KYW Newsradiotoday.
This comes after taxpayers funded a $905,000 buyout when she was shown the door in August. 
As part of her separation agreement, the School Reform Commission agreed not to contest any unemployment claims she might file.

Actually, what they've got in Philadelphia is not a school board, but a "School Reform Commission." I assume that's because the actual school board had become so corrupt and pointless as to be incapable of fulfilling its mission. Just to add to the fun, the funds for Ackerman's buy-out came from private donors. I'd love to hear the fund raising pitch for that one. 

There's been a lot of hooting about how Ackerman is nothing more than a parasite living off the tax payers, but I don't think that's quite fair. She was school superintendent in San Francisco from 2000 - 2006 and did a respectable job there. She came in to clean up a nest of corruption in the district, resulting in a number of arrests. She made a real effort to confront the teachers union's insistence on putting its interests ahead of the kids. Parents loved her, but you can guess how things ended. Ackerman became the focus of the sort of "ethics complaints" that are normally reserved for Sarah Palins of the world. The school board was dominated by a Green Party faction that made a determined effort to make Ackerman's life miserable. Hey, sometimes progressive politics demands that we protect corruption and union featherbedding! Ackerman left, taking a buy-out and heading off to Philly. 

I have no idea what happened in Philly the last few years. Ackerman appears to have created some magnet programs at low-performing schools, but these programs were expensive and not popular with the Reform Commission. There have been some spectacular incidents of racial violence at the schools, including an attack on some Asian kids. The last straw for the Commission appears to have been an unexpected budget shortfall, but you would think such a shortfall wouldn't come as a surprise to a Commission charged with operating/reforming the schools. 

None of this is anything to brag about, but if you are determined to dig up bad news about any urban school district in order to undermine the superintendent, you don't have to work too hard. For whatever reason, Ackerman rubbed someone(s) the wrong way, and she had to go. 

Is it silly for Ackerman to seek unemployment benefits? Sure. But, look at things from her perspective. She's been brought into three separate urban school districts (DC, SF & Philly) with the explicit understanding that she will reform a broken system. She always comes in talking about how she will put the kids first, and is clear in confronting the teachers unions, and others who live off the school system. Don't know about Philly, but the parents in DC and SF loved her. But, magically, it always turns out that Ackerman is Doing Something Wrong either by spending money on magnet schools, treating teachers high-handedly, or what have you. And so she goes, often with a pre-printed NEA sign taped to her back. 

If it were me, I'd start feeling pretty bitter about the whole set up. Filing for unemployment benefits might be a small thing, but it would make me feel a little better. 

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