Watchdogs urge SRC to shed light on new schools chief's contract

Posted: June 28, 2012

Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's infamous exit last year from the school district — and the subsequent uproar over her $900,000 buyout and the details surrounding her contract — should be a lesson to the School Reform Commission as it proceeds with the hiring of her replacement, a city watchdog group says.

The Committee of Seventy called on the SRC Tuesday to be open and transparent as "practically possible" by releasing broad parameters of a contract offer to the new schools chief. The group also called on commission members to disclose the contract with the new superintendent once it's been finalized.

"You don't want the public to be involved in negotiations. However, given the financial situation and all the issues that came up with the Arlene Ackerman case ... we're asking the SRC about the issues that are part of the discussion," said Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director of the committee.

SRC member Wendell Pritchett, who heads the superintendent search team, has said that the final decision on a superintendent could be made as early as Friday. Two men who are up for the job met with the public and elected officials this week: Pedro Martinez, 42, deputy superintendent of Clark County School District in Nevada (Las Vegas), and William R. Hite Jr., 50, superintendent of Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland.

More transparency would help the public understand the SRC's priorities in a contract with the new superintendent, Kaplan said.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard declined to answer questions about parameters such as salary range and other potential benefits that may be offered to the final candidate.

"The SRC is committed to making sure that a superintendent contract is fair to the children of Philadelphia and the city's taxpayers," Gallard said in an email. "The SRC will make the contract public right after it is finalized."

Zach Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, called on the commission to reflect on the "overly generous" benefits given to Ackerman when she signed her contract in 2008. Ackerman became the city's highest-paid official with her $348,000-a-year contract.

Stalberg urged that her successor's contract should link any performance bonus to "objective criteria with public input"; disclose the superintendent's performance evaluation; establish "modest financial caps" in future buyout packages; limit the chief's initial term to less than five years, and not include retention bonuses.

Another advocacy group that promotes transparency, Common Cause Pennsylvania, supports the committee's call.

"We're talking about a major investment of city tax dollars," said Barry Kauffman, executive director of the citizen government group. "We have to be sure that the school board is acting as a responsible fiduciary [party], and one of the ways to do that is to have opportunities to weigh in and perhaps provide information that the [SRC] may find useful."

Email Regina Medina at medinar@phillynews.com or follow her on Twitter @reginamedina

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