2 Philadelphia School Reform Commission members resign

Robert Archie (right) resigned as SRC chairman. (Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer)
Robert Archie (right) resigned as SRC chairman. (Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 19, 2011

Signaling another major change in Philadelphia School District leadership even while it is about to search for a new superintendent, two members of the School Reform Commission resigned Monday, one of them its chairman.

Both Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Johnny Irizarry were appointees of Mayor Nutter, who is charged with replacing them.

Their resignations are immediate and raise the question of whether the commission will even be able to meet Wednesday as scheduled. Only two of the five seats - not enough for a quorum - remain filled.

It was not clear what prompted the resignations, although some sources indicated last week that Nutter wanted to remake the commission in the wake of the controversial departure of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman last month.

The commission faced scrutiny for its handling of the $905,000 Ackerman buyout package, including its failed plan to get anonymous donors to contribute toward the buyout. The SRC also was criticized for its decision to extend Ackerman's contract this year until 2014, which could have made the buyout more costly. The commission has taken heat, too, for the budget deficit of more than $600 million that surfaced this year, forcing unprecedented layoffs and cuts in programming.

Archie's departure after 21/2 years at the helm of the 151,000-student district also precedes a much-awaited investigative report by Nutter's chief integrity officer, who was looking into the role Archie may have played in the political battle for a charter-operator contract last spring. Nutter's office has not yet released the report that reviews the circumstances surrounding a proposed contract for Martin Luther King High School, although Nutter promised in April that results would be known quickly.

Ackerman in an interview over the weekend said she was pressured to support a New Jersey nonprofit organization with close ties to Archie and State Rep. Dwight Evans for the charter contract or personal information about her delinquent taxes would be disclosed.

Archie, a partner with the Duane Morris L.L.P. law firm, did not address the charter flap in his resignation statement, and he declined through a spokesman a request for an interview.

"Now that schools have opened successfully, a budget has been adopted for the fiscal year, and an acting superintendent has been appointed, I have determined that I should conclude my service on the School Reform Commission," Archie said in a statement. "The mayor should have the opportunity to carry out his educational programs and objectives with a new group of appointees to the commission."

Archie was made chairman by Gov. Ed Rendell. Because the district is run by the state, the governor has the right to name the chairman.

Education advocates said they were hopeful the leadership change would bring more "transparency" to the district's governance and spur conversation about what leadership structure is needed.

"It's time, and one could even say it's past time. All of us look forward to a new era where there's more communication and transparency as well as accountability," said Shelly Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

Councilman James F. Kenney agreed.

"I like Bob Archie, but it's time to have as much change over there as possible, since we have a new superintendent," he said, referring to acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery II. "That was the SRC that gave her the deal."

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, also supported the change.

"It's probably a good time for the transition to take place with the SRC," he said.

Nutter and Nunery in statements thanked Archie and Irizarry for their volunteer service.

"With uncommon dedication and always with dignity, they contributed countless hours of their time and effort to help advance the School District of Philadelphia, the city, and its youth," Nunery said, noting that both were chairmen of a task force on African American and Latino male dropouts.

Irizarry, director of the Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina at the University of Pennsylvania, did not return calls for comment.

In his statement, Nutter said he would make new appointments to the commission "very shortly." His appointees, unlike the three gubernatorial appointees, do not need confirmation by the state Senate and could take their seats immediately.

Ackerman did not return calls for comment.

She told the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and WHYY/NewsWorks that she was ordered last spring to support Foundations Inc. to run King High as a charter. Foundations has ties to Archie and Evans, who are longtime friends.

"I was told by someone that if I didn't get my mind right about this Foundations situation, that something would be leaked about my finances," Ackerman said.

She did not identify the person who threatened her, according to the Notebook/NewsWorks account, but said she disclosed the name to Joan Markman, Nutter's chief integrity officer. The conversation occurred days before Fox29 News reported that Ackerman owed $20,000 in back taxes. The Inquirer also reported in April that three state and federal tax liens totaling more than $125,000 had been filed against Ackerman.

The charter controversy became public when it came to light that Archie took part in a closed-door meeting along with Evans and the operator of Mosaica Education, which was selected by a group of King parents and community members to receive the charter. The meeting took place just hours after the SRC voted to give the five-year contract to Mosaica.

Archie called the meeting despite a possible conflict of interest; Duane Morris has represented Foundations. He previously had abstained from voting on contracts involving Foundations.

Mosaica later pulled out of the contract and Foundations was in line to receive it. Foundations, however, also withdrew after the controversy became public.

Ackerman, who resigned in August after a tumultuous three years as superintendent, denied multiple requests for interviews from The Inquirer.

Speaking to the Notebook and NewsWorks, Ackerman blasted Nutter for not releasing the Markman report.

"I think it's tragic, and unconscionable, that the story hasn't been told," Ackerman said.

She also told them that she gave Markman the name of "someone close to Dwight Evans" who told her that not backing Foundations could be a "career decision" for her and haunt the rest of her tenure in Philadelphia.

While she said she was not sure that the leak of her finance information was connected to the King controversy, she pointed out that her tax attorney also works for Duane Morris.

A call to Duane Morris was not returned Monday. Evans also did not return a call for comment.

In his statement, Archie said he tried to work closely with the mayor during his tenure.

He cited the creation of the district's education plan Imagine 2014, "progressive teacher contracts," and "the integration of traditional public schools with charter programs" as among accomplishments during his leadership.

"I am satisfied that I have given the best service of which I am capable to the citizens of Philadelphia," he said. "At all times, I have acted in their sole interest, and it has been a privilege and an honor to do so."


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Martha Woodall contributed to this article.

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