Tag Archives: Arlene Ackerman

Despite School Budget Woes, City Plans $137K Ackerman Statue

by Bartleby Baumgartner

City approves a $137,000 bronze memorial statue to honor the former schools chief. 

Artist's vision of Ackerman statue

Artist’s vision of Ackerman statue

PHILADELPHIA, PA  In a highly controversial decision from their headquarters beneath Billy Penn, City of Brotherly Love officials announced this morning that former superintendent of Philadelphia public schools, Arlene Ackerman, will be honored later this year for her achievements with a life size bronze memorial statue crafted in her image and likeness, valued at approximately $137,000.

Ackerman, the Richard R. Green Award winner for being the nation’s top urban school leader in 2010, and whose tragic passing earlier this winter caught many by surprise, is the first Philadelphia superintendent to be honored with such a memorial.

“The question is, where do you put it?” said a City of Brotherly Love spokesperson.  “The consensus seems to be to put it outside 440 North Broad Street, and install a reflecting pool and flood lights around it.  The pool and flood lights would be another twenty-five grand or so, but the mayor just raised property taxes, so this shouldn’t be an issue.”

Several students from the University of the Arts suggested the statue may have a place either outside the New Barnes or perhaps at the base of the Art Museum steps.

“They should just put it next to the Rocky statue,” Collin Crothers, a sophomore in graphic design, said.  “You could even turn the two statues to face each other, like they were going to have a boxing match.  Rocky versus Queen Arlene.  There you go.  That’s the theme for Rocky VII.  I’m going to call up Sly Stallone’s agent and pitch the idea right now.”

Mandy Assgrapes, a junior majoring in marbling, said, “Put it atop City Hall with Ben Franklin.  That’s Ben Franklin up there, right?”

Wrong.  It’s William Penn.

Still, Assgrapes’ idea isn’t too far fetched.  Several City of Brotherly Love Councilmen actually brought up the notion of spending upwards of an additional $10,000 to bring in a crane and mount the Ackerman statue along side Billy Penn, and even began to solicit bids on the contract.

A councilman who asked to remain anonymous said he didn’t care about trivialities such as cost and location, as long as the job was done with union labor.

“The statue’s a beautiful thing,” he said.  “Let’s just do it right and bring in the proper people, you know, our guys.  That’s the way Queen Arlene would have wanted it.”

The statue is set to be unveiled by bronze sculpture artist Sylvester McMonkey McBean at the beginning of June.

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Filed under Dr. Ackerman's Strategic Plan

Breakfast Participation Barely Up, Despite Holding Principals Accountable

by Christopher Paslay

Despite the opinions of child hunger advocacy groups, principals cannot replace parents.   

For child hunger advocates, it’s not enough that the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single city school. Principals must do more to coax the students into eating it.

In 2009, former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman enacted a policy that held principals accountable for the number of student breakfasts eaten in each school. Ackerman and child poverty advocates reasoned that including breakfast participation in a principal’s performance rating would significantly increase the number of students taking advantage of these free meals.

Nearly four years later, the percentage of school breakfasts eaten by Philadelphia public school children is up only 10 percent.  In 2009, about 30 percent of students eligible for a free breakfast took advantage, which is compared to about 40 percent today; 52 percent of elementary students, 42 percent of middle schoolers, and 28 percent of high schoolers eat the free school breakfast, according to an analysis released last week by Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

There’s no denying that nutrition has an impact on a child’s ability to learn. I’ve been teaching in Philadelphia for 16 years, and when my students are hungry, they have difficulty focusing on the lesson and staying on task. If I had my way, every child in the district would eat a hearty breakfast, complete with vitamins and dietary supplements to keep their minds sharp and their growing bodies strong and healthy.

But nutrition should not be the responsibility of school principals, despite the fact that groups like Public Citizens for Children and Youth argue otherwise.  Kathy Fisher, a director at PCCY, called for principals to get more involved in school breakfast participation.

Fisher Stated: “To just say, ‘Oh, well, the kids don’t want to participate,’ is not an acceptable answer to us.”

Interestingly, the role of parents doesn’t factor into the equation with groups like PCCY, or with the Philadelphia School District as a whole.  Historically, it seems as if the District has written off parents and the community altogether, deeming them too irresponsible to provide even the most basic guidance and care to their children.

Several years ago, to keep better track of subsidized school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wanted to change the rules of its Universal Feeding Program, the free breakfast and lunch program offered solely in the Philadelphia School District. The program didn’t require students or their families to fill out applications to get subsidized meals, and USDA officials wanted to start requiring the forms for accounting purposes.

The School District and advocacy groups went berserk over the proposal. They insisted that forcing students to fill out an application for a free meal was too daunting – that parents of impoverished children were too overwhelmed to deal with complicated forms. The USDA ultimately relented.

Philadelphia School District officials are constantly talking about “raising the bar” when it comes to education and making academics more “rigorous.” Meanwhile, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced that the education reform train is leaving the station and everyone must get on board. Why, then, aren’t parents being asked to contribute?

I understand that filling out applications can be intimidating to some people, but why didn’t the District call on its parent ombudsmen back in 2009 to help struggling mothers and fathers learn the skill? So many things in life require an application – a driver’s license, a checking account, a credit card.

But the District didn’t want to be bothered with the inconvenience of working with parents. It’s better to keep students and their families in their comfort zone – quiet, pacified, hopelessly dependent.

Unfortunately, this is the attitude the District has taken when it comes to feeding students free breakfasts. The right thing would be to work with the community and educate citizens on the importance of nutrition. Free meals could be promoted on a grassroots level in Philadelphia’s impoverished neighborhoods, encouraging moms and dads to take part in their children’s health and schooling. Then, maybe, more kids would skip the Pepsi and bag of Doritos at the bus stop in the morning and get to school in time for the free apple juice and bagel with cream cheese.

But, unfortunately, District officials like Ackerman thought it was easier to blame the principals.  They thought wrong; the fact that breakfast participation has only increased a modest 10 percent – 60 percent of students still skip the free school breakfast – is proof.

Children rise to the level of expectations. If we made a true commitment to our students and their families, we could put a real dent in the cycle of poverty.

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A Look at the Philadelphia School District’s Top Earners

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s top 655 earners (less than one-third of 1 percent of employees) make a combined $88 million in annual salaries.    

According to a Phillymag.com article by Larry Mendte published last June, there were 655 individuals working for the Philadelphia School District in 2011-12 making over $100,000.  Surprisingly, there were 98 teachers on the list.  Principals, who on average make $106,046, flooded the list and accounted for five of the District’s top 10 earners.

Not included on the list are this year’s newly minted one percenters, such as Superintendent Dr. William Hite ($300,000 annual salary), Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn ($210,000 salary), and newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates ($129,162 salary); Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen who was receiving $25,000 a month in 2012 (for a grand total of nearly $300,000), did make the list although is not listed in the top 25 below because he’d only racked-up a nifty $122,988.48 when Mendte published the article last June. 

When totaling up all the 655 salaries over $100,000, it comes to $88 million.  This means one-third of 1 percent of the workers (the School District has 20,309 employees) gobble-up over 10 percent of the money (the District’s 2013 adopted operating budget allocates $879 million for salaries and wages).

Here were the top 25 earners working for the School District in 2011-12 according to the article by Mendte:

  1. Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent of Schools: $804,668.67
  2. Leroy Nunery, Special Advisor: $206,283.52
  3. Michael Davis, General Counsel: $171,247.48
  4. Penny Nixon, Chief Academic Officer: $170,096.13
  5. Michael Masch, Special Advisor: $168,840.82
  6. Debora Borges, Principal Empowerment School: $157,102.79
  7. Renee B. Musgrove, Principal Empowerment School: $151,776.93
  8. Donald j Anticoli, Principal Renaissance School: $151,161.70
  9. Edward Penn, Principal Renaissance School: $150,531.86
  10. Ethelyn Payne Young, Principal Renaissance School: $150,319.66
  11. John W. Frangipani, Principal Empowerment School: $149,645.96
  12. Otis Hackney, Principal Renaissance School: $149,147.04
  13. Charles Staniskis, Principal Empowerment Schools: $147,765.82
  14. Thomas Koger, Principal Non High Needs School: $147,687.99
  15. Mary Dean, Principal Renaissance School: $147,529.67
  16. Michelle Byruch, Principal Non-High Needs: $147,049.39
  17. Christophe Johnson, Principal Renaissance School: $146,809.37
  18. Amish Shah, Teacher: $145,743.55
  19. Woolworth Davis, Principal Renaissance School: $145,652.42
  20. Karen Kolsky, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  21. Lissa S. Johnson, Assistant Superintendent: $145,423.45
  22. Benjamin Wright, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  23. Francisco D. Duran, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  24. Linda Cliatt Wayman, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45
  25. Emmanuel Caulk, Assistant Superintendent: $145,333.45

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the 2,700 workers represented by SEIU 32BJ Local 1201, who provide cleaning, maintenance, and transportation services to the School District.  Nearly all of these workers make less than $40,000 annually—some as little as $25,000 a year.  The School District recently shook-down these hardworking blue-collar folks for an estimated $100 million in labor concessions over the next four years.

According to the new contract between the Philadelphia School District and SEIU 32BJ, which extends to August 31st, 2016, SEIU 32BJ members will contribute between $5 and $45 (depending on salary) to the School District each week, and agree to forgo planned wage increases in the future and freeze wages for the life of the contract.

This, of course, didn’t stop the School District from recently giving 25 non-union workers $311,351 in increases, which average $12,454 per year.  31-year old Christina Ward was given a 17 percent raise and promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer, and will earn $138,420 a year. Joseph D’Alessandro, now the Chief of Grants Development and Compliance, was given an $18,000 raise (16 percent) and currently makes $130,270.  And newly appointed Chief of Family and Community Engagement Evelyn Sample-Oates, who earns $129,162, was given a whopping 49 percent salary increase.

How will the School District cover the pay raises?  No one knows.  Not even the $100 million in labor concession squeezed from the District’s janitors and bus drivers will cover the tab.  According to projections in Dr. William Hite’s Action Plan v1.0, “The District has recurring expenses that exceed its revenues by over $250 million per year, amounting to a $1.35 billion dollar deficit over the next five years.”

And I thought only big corporations and greedy Republicans maintained wage gaps and pimped the working class.

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Teachers Unions Need a Realistic Plan to Brace for Tough Times Ahead

By Christopher Paslay

Randi Weingarten’s latest message to AFT members avoids dealing with America’s harsh fiscal reality.     

During Arlene Ackerman’s tenure—from July of 2008 to July of 2011—the Philadelphia School District spent nearly $10 billion.  As hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus were going God knows where, those in the Philadelphia education community with a shred of common sense knew that when the money dried up, the School District was in big trouble.  Instead of practicing austerity by prioritizing needs, Ackerman and her crew spent, spent, spent—which eventually led to the biggest budget deficit in Philadelphia School District history—a hole over $700 million deep (a hole that the District is still borrowing to climb out of).

What many in the Philadelphia education community may not realize, however, is that the financial woes of the School District are small potatoes compared to what is brewing at the core of the Budget of the United States Government.  Sure, most are aware there is a budget deficit as well as a growing national debt, but most don’t realize just how drastic the situation is and few comprehend the actual compromises that will be needed to begin to stabilize the situation.

AFT President Randi Weingarten’s latest article in American Teacher Magazine is a case in point.  Headlined, “We need a fiscal plan that safeguards priorities,” the piece calls for union members across the country to send a message to Congress to find a “fair-and-balanced” deficit-reduction plan that would stop America from going off the fiscal cliff; if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement by the end of the year, the Bush tax cuts will expire and devastating across-the-board cuts will go into effect.  Weingarten writes:

That’s why the AFT has called upon members from across the country to tell Congress to work together and agree on a fair and balanced deficit-reduction plan that safeguards vital priorities and includes revenue increases, such as requiring corporations and the richest 2 percent of Americans to pay their fair share of taxes.  This would provide needed revenues to ensure essential programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and aid to states and localities for public education will not be slashed.

For the record, I agree with Weingarten.  Vital public education programs need funding (such as Title I grants and Head Start), and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need funds as well.  Here’s the problem with Weingarten’s message, however: 1—it’s based on a fantasy; and 2—it’s dangerously vague.

First, the fantasy part.  Raising taxes on the richest 2 percent by allowing the Bush tax cuts to end for those making over $250,000 a year (their tax rate would go from 35 percent to 39.6 percent) would only generate a measly $70 billion a year.  This may seem like a lot of money until you realize that the U.S. government spends more than $10 billion a day.  Loose translation: this is only enough money to run the government for seven days.

When Weingarten states that making the rich pay more “would provide needed revenues to ensure essential programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and aid to states and localities for public education will not be slashed,” she is simply purporting an economic myth; Medicare and Medicaid together cost $1 trillion annually.  This is not to say that the taxes of the very rich shouldn’t go from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, as President Obama wants.  But the idea that simply taxing the rich is going to save public education and health care is ridiculous (and dangerous—but I’ll get to that part in a moment).

Raising taxes on the rich is only a drop in the bucket; the fiscal crisis cannot be remedied without very real spending cuts.  There is this fantastic idea harbored by idealistic education advocates that the U.S. is the land of plenty, one of the richest nations on earth, and that there is more than enough money to go around—if only we could get those greedy wealthy corporate types and the like to pay their fair share.  This isn’t exactly true, either.  Consider these facts using 2009 data from the IRS:

  • 8,274 people filed tax returns with incomes over $10 million, which totaled $240.1 billion in income.  If the government took 100 percent of their money—not the 39.6 percent that the President wants—it would only cover 24 days of federal spending.
  • 236,883 people filed tax returns with incomes over $1 million, which totaled $726.91 billion in income.  If the government took 100 percent of their money, it would only cover 72 days of federal spending.
  • 3,924,490 people filed tax returns with incomes over $200K, which totaled $1.964 trillion in income.  If the government took 100 percent of their money, it would only cover about six months of federal spending.
  • 17,446,537 people filed tax returns with incomes over $100,000, which totaled $3.765 trillion in income.  If the government took 100 percent of their money, they would still be $30 billion short of 2012 spending, which comes in at $3.796 trillion.

The notion that simply making the rich “pay their fair share” will save Title I grants, Head Start, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is, as I mentioned earlier, pure fantasy.  The reality of the situation is that things will need to be cut (think of the past two years in the Philadelphia School District for those who still don’t get the picture).  Loose translation: crazy spending eventually catches up with you.

Which brings me to my second point: Weingarten’s message to AFT members is dangerously vague.  Vague in terms of specifics on what the AFT is willing to compromise.  Yes, I said the forbidden word: compromise.  I know what old school union folk are thinking: Off with his head!  But it doesn’t matter whether I say the word or not, because it’s coming and there’s nothing that can be done about it.  Whether the rich pay more or not, real spending cuts are coming.  The only question is when.

If the president gets his way and Congress agrees to once again raise the debt ceiling (maybe to 18.5 trillion), then the big cuts won’t happen for another few years.  They’ll probably (and conveniently) happen after 2016, but when they do, look out (think the Philadelphia School District fiscal crisis on a grand scale).  Which is why the AFT should be bracing now for the coming craziness.  Weingarten should be honest with AFT members: Taxing the rich sounds great and makes us feel good, but it’s not going to save us.  What are our priorities, our real priorities?  What do we absolutely need, and what are we willing to negotiate?  We can’t pretend this away anymore.  Here are the numbers, and here is the situation.

The AFT (as well as President Obama) should start seriously figuring out what’s going on the chopping block so all of us can honestly start preparing for the inevitable.

As writers say in the world of books when a publisher demands that words be cut from a manuscript in order to make space:  Better that I do the surgery myself than let some crazy editor decide.

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Dr. Hite forgoes $120,000 severance; will show up one month late for work

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. William Hite, Philadelphia’s new superintendent of schools, is reportedly giving up his severance package with Prince George’s County Schools in Maryland to start work in Philadelphia by October 1st, one month after the school year begins.     

It appears that Dr. William Hite will take the high road—unlike his predecessor Dr. Arlene Ackerman.  According to a story in Wednesday’s Inquirer:

His contract with Prince George’s stipulated that to receive severance pay — six months salary, or $125,000 — Hite would have to give 120 days notice, which would have him working into November, Hite explained.

Instead, Hite made a deal to forgo his severance and give 60 days notice, he said.

His official last day with Prince George’s will be Sept. 30, the district announced Monday.

Dr. Hite’s gesture puts him ahead of Dr. Ackerman, the queen of the urban superintendent severance package.  Last year, Ackerman negotiated a $1 million severance package from the SRC, and then filed for unemployment after receiving it.  In 2006, she was awarded $375,000 in severance pay from the San Francisco public schools, then tried to sue the district claiming she was owed an additional $172,000 in unused benefits; amazingly, all this was allowed to take place after Ackerman’s tumultuous stint as Washington D.C.’s schools’ chief.

Kudos to Dr. Hite for being a bit more scrupulous and forgoing his $120,000 severance package from the Prince George County district in Maryland (at this point it is not clear whether he will lose all or some of this money).

This gesture, however, does not excuse the fact that he will be starting as Philadelphia’s schools’ chief one month after the school year begins.  The fact that he was hired by the SRC on June 29th—after a nearly six month long superintendent search process—does raise some questions.  Was his October 1st start date made known during the search process?  If so, why would the SRC agree to this?  Or did the fact that he will be showing up to work one month late come to light after he was hired, forcing the SRC into a corner? 

The math doesn’t seem to add up here, either.  Dr. Hite was hired by the SRC on June 29th.  If he put in his notice to Prince George County on July 1st, wouldn’t 60 days take us to September 1st, the start of the school year?  How does giving 60 days notice bring us to October 1st?  This would be 90 days notice (92 days, actually).   

Either way, the SRC’s planning and scheduling leaves much to be desired.  With all due respect to Dr. Hite, he should have had his previous business in order before applying for the job in Philadelphia. 

One of the reasons large urban schools districts fail—and continue to lag behind the suburbs—is because too many of their working parts (parents, students, central management, etc.) fail to meet deadlines, causing a major ripple effect that negatively impacts everyone.  If the SRC and the superintendent of schools can’t get things rolling on time, what example does this set for our students?  If Dr. Hite can show up late for school, why can’t they? 

As I wrote in my June 27th post, being “on time” is not a matter of perspective.  Unfortunately, this kind of time management and value system appears to have slipped the minds of Philadelphia School District leaders.

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Public School Notebook Reviews ‘The Village Proposal’

by Christopher Paslay

Notebook blogger Samuel Reed III calls The Village Proposal “provocative” and “engaging,” although he points out some flaws regarding the idea of the universal “we” and the concept of social justice.         

Below are the opening lines of the Notebook’s review of my book The Village Proposal by Samuel Reed III (click here to read the full review):   

Christopher Paslay brings his expertise as a high school English teacher, contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chalk and Talk blogger to make The Village Proposal a timely and compelling read. The book examines the problems in education by juxtaposing Paslay’s personal memoir with solid documented research. . . .

Reed, a fellow Philadelphia educator, writer, consultant and educational researcher, has made some interesting observations and analyses of the book.  Before I respond to his review, here’s some quick background:              

In the spring of 2009 I decided to sit down and write a book on education reform.  I tried to do something unique and original—combine memoir from an everyday Philadelphia schoolteacher with researched-based commentary on how to remedy America’s ailing public schools. 

I spent nearly two years of my life on the project—collecting research, writing, rewriting, developing a proposal, shopping for an agent, finding a publisher, working with an editor, revising, checking facts, developing a title, collecting jacket cover endorsements, and going through all the painstaking work of marketing the book to the education community. 

In September of 2011 The Village Proposal was released by Rowman & Littlefield

To my chagrin, not a whole lot of people gave a crap.  Worse still, it seems the blend of memoir and commentary exists in a limbo that flies under the radar.      

But Reed’s review, which was published today on the Notebook’s website, seems to have captured much of what I was trying to achieve:         

You may not agree with some or all of the arguments, but that is exactly what makes Village Proposal a good read. Paslay argues using a narrative structure not found in many books about education reform. He doesn’t bore the reader with an overly complex or over-simplified problem-and-solution approach to education. He presents a nuanced view of shared responsibility. . . .

That was indeed part of the purpose of the book, to craft a narrative that succeeded in developing plot and character, while weaving-in commentary about the issues facing public education. 

On a more critical note, Reed noted that I misinterpreted the concept of social justice:

The chapter “Multiculturalism and the Achievement Gap” has the greatest tension. “Social Justice” and Amiri Baraka are the competing foes in the climactic narrative about shared responsibilities. But contrary to Paslay’s perspective, social justice should not be viewed as a polarizing force, but as a means to conduct inquiry around equity, fairness, and what it means to live in a democratic society. . .

This indeed is a valid point.  However, the concept of social justice, as I mentioned many times in the book, is a matter of perspective.  I wouldn’t say that Amiri Baraka’s call for revolution was an inquiry into fairness.  Holding on to past injuries is not healing, nor is it proactive to stoke the flames of racial tension in students and young people.  Our ultimate goal as humans should be colorblindness.       

Reed also pointed out what he felt was a short-coming of the book: 

His style of combining his memoir and documented research fuels the narrative of shared responsibility. But Paslay falls short in crystallizing his first-person narrative to incorporate the universal “we”.

In the chapter “First Year,” there is a sense that Paslay’s background of attending Catholic schools and growing up in a “refined” suburban, two-parent household makes his edgier students the “other.”  

In the chapter “A Day in the Life,this “otherness” reappears when the idea of “What’s with these kids’ parents?” enters the narrative frame. Therein lies the rub with not only the title of the book, The Village Proposal, but also the whole village concept. For the “it takes a village” narrative to work, the “I” must be the universal “we” and “these kids” must be “our kids.” . . .

This is also valid observation by Reed.  However, in defense of the book, in later chapters the relationship between myself and my students does develop into a universal “we,” which is part of the arc of the book—that after my initial years in the classroom, I finally develop a true relationship and appreciation of my students that is free from separateness; this “otherness” indeed dissolves over time as I gain experience and bond with my students. 

Reed’s conclusion is very thoughtful and complimentary nonetheless:   

Overall, though, this book deserves accolades. The structure, narrative style, documented research, and provocative commentary make it a must-read for teacher educators, teachers, policy makers and anyone interested in understanding the landscape of education reform.

Paslay deserves a lot of credit for writing a timely portrait of his vision of what shared responsibility looks like and feels like. For writing The Village Proposal while working as a full-time classroom teacher, prolific blogger, frequent contributor to the Inquirer and sometime-critic of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Paslay has my utmost admiration.

Thank you Mr. Reed for your thoughtful and in depth review.  The feeling of admiration is, for the record, mutual.   

 

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What Happened to the Philadelphia School District’s 2008 Five-Year Financial Plan?

by Christopher Paslay

Tom Knudsen, the District’s new Chief Recovery Officer, is searching for consultants to help the District develop a five-year financial plan to balance the budget.  Tragically, this would not be necessary if the District simply followed its 2008 five-year plan.

I’m going to let Tom Knudsen and the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in on a little secret: five-year financial plans only work if you follow them.  This nugget of wisdom is similar to the “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry goes to pick up his rental car and finds there are none available.  The rental agent acknowledges that Jerry indeed has a reservation, but that he can’t get a car because the agency didn’t hold one for him. 

“Anyone can take a reservation,” Jerry says, “but it’s the holding of the reservation that counts.”

The same philosophy applies to the District: anyone can write a five-year financial plan; it’s following the plan that counts.   

A case in point is the District’s other five-year financial plan, the one Dr. Ackerman and the SRC released on June 30, 2008.  Titled, “Five-Year Financial Plan: Fiscal Year 2008-2009 through Fiscal Year 2012-13,” it was put in place to help close the $73 million “surprise” budget deficit left by Paul Vallas, former C.E.O. of Philadelphia public schools (click here to read the document).  The plan went on to make several ambitious promises in its executive summary:

“In future years, District finances are projected to continue steady improvement based on strong continued state funding levels, combined with tight fiscal restraint for District spending. Accordingly, the first year of this Plan is critical for establishing sustainable fiscal health.

A Gap Closing Plan is in development to achieve full and sustainable balance for the fiscal year ahead. The SRC Chair has requested that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Secretary of the Budget and City of Philadelphia Director of Finance work with the District to construct this approach, and the process has begun. Assuming that at least half of the initiatives in this Gap Closing Plan recur, the District is projected to produce operating surpluses in FY2010-11 and FY2011-12 and to begin to rebuild a positive Fund Balance reserve.”    

Here are the yearly budget projections quoted in the Five Year Financial Plan (p. 14 of the document):

FY2008-09:  $2,280,602,991

FY2009-10:  $2,483,103,289

FY2010-11:  $2,646,495,847 

FY2011-12:  $2,806,419,243

FY2012-13:  $3,025,631,379

To the credit of the newly appointed Dr. Ackerman and the SRC, the District did manage to successfully balance the books in 2008-09.  Shortly thereafter, however, the District’s philosophy of efficient spending went out the window.  This was undoubtedly due to the fact that a gigantic pot of Federal Stimulus money landed at their doorstep.  Here are the District’s actual budgets from 2009 to 2012:

FY2008-09:  $2,794,000,000

FY2009-10:  $3,057,000,000

FY2010-11:  $3,216,000,000

FY2011-12:  $2,770,000,000

The District’s spending not only went up nearly a half a billion dollars in three years ($422 million), but their 2010-11 costs were 570 million dollars over their original budget projections in their financial plan issued in June of 2008.    

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, the irony of the situation is two-fold.  One—the District somehow forgot to exercise “tight fiscal restraint.”  And two—there is no operating surplus for the year 2011-12.  In fact, there is now a deficit of over $700 million dollars. 

Most ironic, however, is the fact that if the SRC would have simply followed their own Five Year Financial Plan, which estimated a budget of only $2,806,419,243 for the 2011-12 school year, there would be a more manageable deficit of $36 million dollars, based on the District’s 2011-12 school year budget of $2,770,000,000.

So a word to the wise: if the District is going to spend a bunch of money hiring a consultant to write a five-year financial plan, it must make sure it follows it.  Writing a financial plan and not following it is like giving out a reservation for an automobile but not holding the car.

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CNN Links Chalk & Talk Article on Ackerman

by Christopher Paslay

Yesterday, CNN.com linked my Chalk & Talk article, “Arlene Ackerman Voted America’s Top Urban Superintendent, Ten Months Ago Today” under their Local Headlines section on their Politics page.

The link is still currently posted.  To visit the link, go to CNN.com, click on their Politics page, scroll down to “Local Headlines,” and set the town to Philadelphia by inputting any Philly zip code.  (Click here to visit CNN’s Politics page.) 

Thanks to CNN for listening!

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Arlene Ackerman Voted America’s Top Urban Superintendent, Ten Months Ago Today

by Christopher Paslay

Last fall, before the PSSA test cheating scandal, before the Philadelphia School District faced a $630 million budget deficit, before the IRS audit into District financial practices and the no-bid security contract debacle with IBS Communications and the “Accountability Agreement” with the city—before politicians began proposing laws to limit her power and writing letters to the governor requesting her immediate termination—Dr. Ackerman was the best urban superintendent in the country. 

On October 21st, 2010, Dr. Ackerman received the Richard R. Green Award, the nation’s top prize for urban education leadership awarded by the Council of the Great City Schools

“Arlene Ackerman is one of the best big-city school superintendents in the country and is most worthy of the nation’s highest individual award in urban education,” said Council Executive Director Michael Casserly in a press release dated 10/21/10. “She is smart, dedicated, innovative, effective, and completely committed to our urban schoolchildren. Our sincere congratulations.”

In a testimonial video presented at the award ceremony (which took place while the federal government was conducting a civil-rights inquiry into racial violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School), the City and School District also spoke Dr. Ackerman’s praises. 

“The city of Philadelphia has benefited greatly from Dr. Arlene Ackerman’s courageous leadership,” Mayor Michael Nutter said.  “She has shown remarkable dedication to our city’s students and families and has given renewed hope to all of us by showing us just how truly great we can be.”       

School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie said, “Congratulations, Dr. Ackerman, on being the recipient of this award.  Through your leadership qualities, the School District of Philadelphia has been transformed into one of the best in the United States.”

“Dr. Ackerman is a strong woman of faith,” said Dr. Kevin R. Johnson, Senior Pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church.  “And like Esther in the Bible, I believe that God has sent her to Philadelphia for such a time as this.”    

These words, and this award, ten months ago today.

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Ackerman Supporter Burns a Copy of the Inquirer Outside School District Headquarters

 by Christopher Paslay

After city schools’ chief Arlene Ackerman told the media outside of school district headquarters today that she isn’t going anywhere, activist Sacaree Rhodes burned a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.         

Kristen Graham, an education beat reporter for the Inquirer, wrote about the incident on her blog:   

“After Ackerman spoke, activist Sacaree Rhodes burned a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying the paper’s coverage of Ackerman has been racist.

‘The devil is on our feet,’ Rhodes shouted as the paper burned.  ‘The Daily News and the Inquirer has done nothing but treated this woman like she has committed a crime!  The only crime she has committed is demanding justice for all.’

‘You’re going to pay for it,’ Rhodes added.”

This is the second time in a week an Ackerman supporter has threatened violence.  One week ago, school police officer Pamela Williams, who is under investigation by the Philadelphia School District for leading recent rallies in support of Ackerman while on disability, publically voiced her displeasure that the district is planning to cut eight of its proposed 11 Promise Academies.

Williams told district officials at a meeting last week to “come out front and do the right thing. . . . If you don’t do it right, I’m going to call in the troops.”  She went on to say that if the district doesn’t fund the Promise Academies, the city “will be another London. Our children will begin to revolt. They’re already mad. They’re already angry.”

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