School deal audits?

With the buyout of schools chief Arlene Ackerman (far right) being partially financed by anonymous donors, Mayor Nutter may have discovered a way to get fat cats to kick in without paying taxes, an example that could be followed by President Obama and Gov. Corbett, both of whom could use the revenue.
With the buyout of schools chief Arlene Ackerman (far right) being partially financed by anonymous donors, Mayor Nutter may have discovered a way to get fat cats to kick in without paying taxes, an example that could be followed by President Obama and Gov. Corbett, both of whom could use the revenue.
Posted: August 24, 2011

AUDITOR GENERAL Jack Wagner warned School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie earlier this month that contract buyouts shouldn't be done in the dark.

Archie obviously didn't listen.

Wagner yesterday called for an audit of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's deal, which was brokered in secret for weeks before officials announced Monday that she would walk away with a $905,000 severance package.

Wagner said in a statement yesterday that full details of buyouts should be available to taxpayers. He criticized the waste of tax money used in buyouts of several superintendents in the state over the past six years.

He also called for an audit into the $50,000 buyout paid to former Allentown Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak, who served only one year of a five-year contract after stepping down as state education secretary.

"As the state's independent fiscal watchdog, I want to help taxpayers understand what they are paying for," Wagner said.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said officials will "fully cooperate" with Wagner's audit.

Even though district officials and Ackerman denied that buyout talks were under way, lawyers for the SRC and Ackerman were locked in negotiations since June.

Wagner said he sent Archie a letter Aug. 9 expressing his concern that "negotiated buyouts of school officials are frequently not made transparent to the public."

Not only were the negotiations kept secret, the deal the SRC is expected to approve today includes $405,000 from anonymous donors who funneled the money through a local nonprofit, the Philadelphia's Children First Fund.

Archie, Ackerman and acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery all sit on the nonprofit's board.

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