Thomas Knudsen to act as superintendent, finance chief
The Philadelphia School District — on the heels of announcing last week that it has established a new superintendent search team — made a major announcement regarding its organizational structure and finances.
The School Reform Commission meeting Thursday night revealed the district will have to cut an additional $61 million by June, and named a new “chief recovery officer” to assist in its struggling financial state.
The SRC named Thomas Knudsen, the turnaround expert who led the Philadelphia Gas Works to fiscal sanity, as chief recovery officer, a position which will function as both superintendent and chief financial officer. Leroy Nunery, the former interim superintendent, and Michael Masch, the former chief financial officer, will both continue to work for the district, but in diminished roles.
It was also revealed Thursday that the district will be withholding promised raises from blue collar workers who were scheduled to see increases in their salaries starting this week.
Capping the school district’s tumultuous last few weeks was the civil lawsuit filed by former district executive John L. Byars. Byars’ suit alleges he was made the scapegoat when critics decried a no-bid contract awarded to minority firm, IBS Communications Inc. Byars alleges that former superintendent Arlene Ackerman not only steered IBS to the contract, but signed off on the $7.5 million plan, even though there were plans to award that contract to the Newton, Bucks County-based firm Security & Data Technologies.
Byars filed his suit Jan. 11, and named acting school superintendent Leroy D. Nunery II, Ackerman, the SRC, the School District of Philadelphia, Robert Archie Jr., Denise McGregor Armbrister, Johnny Irizarry, Estelle G. Matthews, Jamilah Fraser and Shana Kemp as defendants.
There are other issues swirling around the district as well.
Commissioner Feather Houstoun displayed a presentation at Thursday’s meeting that she called “budget stress arithmetic” to comment on the state of the district’s finances, and the appointment of a permanent superintendent search team. Joseph Dworetzky, who is also named in the suit, has been appointed a member of the search team.
“We’re not as well off as we were three months ago,” Houstoun told the audience. “We are losing ground for a number of reasons.”