City looking into former superintendent’s claim she was ‘advised’ to change her charter decision
Former Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is no longer the central figure charged with educating the more than 155,000 students in the district, but her influence continues to run far and wide in the city.
Almost a month after she and the School Reform Commission agreed on her contract buyout, Ackerman has shifted attention to another unseemly School District situation — the Martin Luther King charter fiasco.
Specifically, Ackerman told The Notebook.org, a blog that covers the Philadelphia public schools, that Mayor Michael Nutter already has the results of an investigation into the controversy. It was back in April that Nutter announced an investigation into the situation headed by Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman.
“I think it’s tragic and unconscionable, that the story hasn’t been told yet,” Ackerman told the Notebook earlier this week.
According to the office of the mayor, that day is coming within the next two weeks, maybe less. Until that time, though, Ackerman and others will have to wait a little bit longer.
“The report from the chief integrity officer to the mayor will be released shortly,” mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said. “It would be premature to talk about anything particular to that whole issue at this point.”
With the resignation on Monday of School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie, Committee of Seventy President Zack Stalberg says that the public is due an answer now.
“It is my understanding that the Markman report is in [the mayor’s] hands, and I think it should be released,” said the president of the watchdog organization. “Not releasing it sends a bad message on top of the other bad messages that have already been sent. The decision of who is going to be the operator of Martin Luther King High School has been closely watched since Easter. It would clear up at least one of the clouds hanging over the school district if the mayor released the report.”
Archie’s resignation, Stalberg says, just raises more questions begging to be answered.
“Now that Archie has resigned, the public has the right to know whether or not the findings of the report had anything to do with his resignation.”
At the core of the controversy was the battle between Foundations, Inc., an organization with which state Rep. Dwight Evans has deep ties, and Mosaica Education out of Atlanta. It was reported last April that Evans — in a closed-door meeting, allegedly convinced Mosaica to back out of the five-year, $12 million contract it had been awarded so that Foundations could have it.
While she gives no specifics, Ackerman painted a picture of arm-twisting and political backroom deals being made that superseded the wants, needs and desires of the parents and children of Martin Luther King High.
Of that situation, Ackerman told The Notebook that she felt pressured on more than one occasion to endorse Foundations, Inc. over Mosaica. She added that she “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.”
Not long after she was allegedly given this directive, Fox29 News aired a report that showed she owed more $20,000 in back taxes. Ackerman’s tax attorney works at Duane Morris LLP. Archie is also a partner at Duane Morris, and a close associate of Evans.
The SRC voted to award Mosaica — which had been the choice of an advisory panel of King parents and community leaders — the contract on March 16. Scant hours later, Archie, who said he was acting in his official capacity, called a meeting of all parties despite his obvious conflict of interest — Duane Morris had represented Foundations before.
Shortly after Archie’s role became public, Foundations withdrew its bid for the contract. A long-suffering school that has struggled academically, King today is run by the school district as a Promise Academy.
At the time the decision was made, Ackerman appeared neutral on the issue. Now it appears that her support was for Mosaica all along, and she wants the story told.
“I think the public needs to know exactly what happened so that this won’t happen again,” Ackerman said.
When Nutter launched the investigation into the King controversy, he spoke in urgent terms of getting to the bottom of the situation. However, in the days, weeks and now months that have passed — that sense of urgency has waned.
Meanwhile, the SRC is still shrouded in mystery. When the SRC bought out Ackerman’s contract at $905,000, $405,000 came from anonymous donors. The privacy of those anonymous donors stirred a furor in the city that eventually the public donors reneged on the money, leaving the school district — and taxpayers — to foot the bill.
Two members of the embattled School Reform Commission are leaving their posts. Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. resigned Monday and Johnny Irizarry was expected to follow suit.
“I am resigning as chairman and as a member of the School Reform Commission, a very distinguished and hard working body of volunteers, effective immediately,” Archie, who is also a Tribune board member, said in a statement.
Irizarry confirmed that he would be stepping down but declined to comment before an announcement by Mayor Michael Nutter.
Archie, along with state Rep. Dwight Evans, is the subject of an investigation by the city’s integrity office as Mayor Michael Nutter seeks to find out exactly what happened during the Philadelphia School District’s attempt to turn Martin Luther King High School into a charter school.
Nutter, who appointed both men in March 2009, ordered the investigation into Archie in April. Though he promised a report “as soon as possible,” the city has not yet released its findings.
He was expected to make a public statement Monday afternoon.
Mayor Michael Nutter wasted no time in filling one of the seats on the School Reform Commission, naming Wendell E. Pritchett, the chancellor at Rutgers–Camden, to fill a post.
Pritchett joins the SRC at a time when the organization is experiencing major upheaval. On Monday, two members of the embattled SRC — Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Johnny Irizarry — stepped down from their posts.
“I am very pleased to appoint someone with the qualifications, the imagination and the commitment to public education of Wendell Pritchett,” Nutter said in a statement. “He has demonstrated real leadership in the areas of education, local government and sustainable community development for many years.”
Pritchett served as deputy chief of staff and director of policy for Nutter. He was responsible for writing the city’s Five-Year Plan and Budget, reorganizing the city’s anti-poverty programs and managing operations of the mayor’s office, according to Nutter’s statement.
Resignations come amid tumultuous year for Phila. School District
Two members of the embattled School Reform Commission have resigned: Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Johnny Irizarry stepped down Monday.
“I very much appreciate the service of Bob Archie and Johnny Irizarry through very difficult and challenging times,” said Mayor Michael Nutter in a statement released Monday afternoon. “During their watch, students continue to show improved test scores and the graduation rate has improved.”
Nutter’s statements came after a tense day with a number of rumors swirling around the future of the SRC.
Archie issued his resignation shortly before noon.
“I am resigning as chairman and as a member of the School Reform Commission, a very distinguished and hard-working body of volunteers, effective immediately,” Archie, who is also a Tribune board member, said in a statement.
Speaking through spokesman Thomas Gailey, with Gailey Murray Communications, Archie declined to talk about the matter, saying that he would not be making any public comments. For a while, Archie appeared poised to speak, but after agreeing to meet with the Tribune he eventually declined, citing an overwhelming number of requests for interviews and worries about the propriety of talking only to a reporter from the publication where he served on the board.
Irizarry, in a hurried telephone conversation shortly thereafter, confirmed that he would be stepping down, but declined to comment further.
Archie said he had arrived at his decision after taking with Nutter “over the last several months,” adding: “The mayor and I have also had recent conversations involving the future management structure of the public school system.”
A spokesman for the mayor said Nutter had not asked either man to resign.
Nutter did say in his statement that he would be naming replacements for Archie and Irizarry “very shortly.”
A source close to the District said that Nutter’s third SRC appointment, Denise Armbrister, has been asked to “keep a letter of resignation in her pocket.”
The SRC has been under growing pressure since earlier this year.
Archie, along with state Rep. Dwight Evans, is the subject of an investigation by the city’s integrity office as Nutter seeks to find out exactly what happened during the Philadelphia School District’s attempt to turn Martin Luther King High School into a charter school.
Evans and Archie met behind closed doors.
Nutter, who appointed both Archie and Irizarry in March 2009, ordered the investigation into Archie, Evans and Martin Luther King High in April. Though he promised a report “as soon as possible,” the city has not yet released its findings.
The unexpected resignations follow that of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who stepped down last month. Since leaving, Ackerman has been talking —a lot — pulling back the curtain on what she contends are a number of shady deals by the SRC.
Added to that, Archie was intimately involved in the buyout of Ackerman’s contract, which has fired up critics throughout the School District and sparked a state investigation.
The deal, which gave Ackerman nearly $1 million to leave the District, increased public scrutiny of the SRC, and Archie in particular. He served on the board of the educational non-profit Children’s First Fund, through which the money to pay Ackerman was supposed to flow. But, the arrangement fell apart in the wake of a public outcry over the fact that donations to fund Ackerman’s exit would be kept secret, leaving the District on the hook for a package totaling $980,000.
The former superintendent received the cash portion of that, $905,000, on Sept. 14.
Ackerman continues to speak to the press. Just Monday, she was featured in a story in the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, in which she called on Nutter to release the results of that city investigation and continued to criticize Evans for his role in the MLK High scandal.
She has been far more circumspect about Archie, who was long seen as one of her more ardent supporters. He very consistently voiced his approval of her despite a growing outcry from critics calling for her removal.
“She’s an excellent educator,” he said, in an interview shortly after her departure. “If you look at her record over my two year tenure, she did an excellent job. I have no reservations about saying that.”
As unexpected as Archie’s resignation was, Irizarry’s was even more of a surprise.
Known as a commissioner who asked many thoughtful questions, Irizarry appeared to have avoided any hint of impropriety during his tenure.
He was perhaps best known for his involvement in the African-American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce.
The two resignations leave three holes on the five-member SRC.
Earlier this year, Commissioner David Girard-DiCarlo resigned after serving little more than a year on the board. Pedro A. Ramos, a former city managing director and one-time member of the school board, has been recommended by Gov. Tom Corbett to fill the vacancy. He is waiting approval by the state Senate.
Barely a week has passed since the School Reform Commission publicized its controversial, “Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools,” and charter school leaders are letting it be known they will fight any plan that attacks per-pupil funding or forces charters schools to adopt an enrollment cap.
Specifically, charter school educators are taking umbrage with the SRC’s plan to slash $149 million from charter school funding, which represents a whopping seven percent drop in per-pupil funding. The plan also calls for a three-year freeze on per-pupil payments, and finally, the enforcement of a mutually agreed upon growth schedule. SRC officials believe it can balance its budget in five years if these and other cuts are implemented.
“In my view, the [budget] issue should not be balanced on the backs of charter schools. The reality is, I don’t go along with that, and it’s not acceptable,” said state Representative Dwight Evans, who was among the leaders of the charter school movement nearly two decades ago, when he introduced legislation supporting the charter model. “First, let’s be clear, this is supposed to be about kids and parents, and there’s nothing in the law that gives the SRC the legal ability to [arbitrarily reduce payments]. There is nothing in the act, one way or the other, for the district to do this.”
Evans was referring to the Act 22 Charter School Legislation of 1997, and most charter proponents point to subsection 17-1723 (d), which states that, “enrollment of students in a charter school or cyber charter school shall not be subject to a cap or otherwise limited to any past or future action of a board of school directors … or any other authority, unless agreed to by the charter school or cyber charter school as part of a written charter.”
“We fought 15 years to get that law passed; 15 years we fought for the parents to have options, and we won’t let the school district mess with the kids,” Evans said, crediting longtime educator and attorney Dr. Walter D. Palmer as being an early leading protagonist of the cause. “The school district has its own ineptness, but we will not let them do this.
“Politically, they must not think of bringing this through Harrisburg, because I wouldn’t support it,” Evans said.
Palmer, at the forefront of the charter issue for almost three decades and who served as major supporter of the mid-’90s legislation, recently took the school district to court over the district’s attempts to cap enrollment at his successful Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School. According to Palmer, the school district has unfairly targeted the charter school system while ignoring both the achievements and gains made by the charters — and the district’s own mismanagement of resources and funds.
“The district has been repressive to charter schools for at least ten years,” Palmer said, placing much of the blame of the perceived public school — charter school friction at the feet of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman and former SRC chairman Robert Archie. “All of this is really an all-out assault on the charter school movement, but [the SRC] cannot circumvent the court.”
Palmer has defied the SRC’s cap measure by continuing to accept students, and billing the state directly. Twice, Palmer said, the courts have agreed with him, and ruled the district must reimburse Leadership Learning more than $1.3 million in outstanding per-pupil payments. The district is currently exhausting its appeals in that matter and Palmer expects a ruling sometime next month.
Palmer recently testified in a City Council hearing helmed by City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who is also the chair of Council’s education committee. There, Palmer made a series of suggestions to the SRC that he believes would help correct the problem.
“I suggested one of the things they do is completely dismantle renaissance schools, which are not charters. They are failed public schools that are reconstituted by the district and controlled by the district, but they then ask a charter school operator to come in and operate them; they are not charter schools,” Palmer said. “Then, I suggested they take those schools and turn them into promise academies. I also said they need to consolidate the mothballed schools; you have William Penn High School on Broad Street that’s sitting empty and costs a fortune to maintain.”
Some of the plans Palmer and other educators suggested — some going back years, if not decades — have finally made their way into the SRC’s reorganization blueprint, such as downsizing the central office; decentralizing certain services and generally trying to trim operations. But the decision to make these cuts came years after continual warnings.
Palmer said the school district really doesn’t have an excuse; the charter school legislation has been in place since 1997, and instead of working in conjunction with charter schools, it seems to him the district is bent on destroying them.
“Stop trying to bash charter schools,” Palmer said. “What we are experiencing now is a white hostile takeover of Black education in America. Folks have realized there are millions and millions to be made [in corporate education] right in the heart of the Black community, and this is happening in urban Black districts with Black folks on their watch.”
The issue of capped enrollment is very real; and doesn’t just affect Philadelphia and its stable of charter schools, as the Chester Upland Charter School recently won the right to uncapped enrollment. Basically, if a charter school is allowed uncapped enrollment, it can then theoretically build other schools to house the added enrollment, provided they meet staffing, safety and academic guidelines.
“They’ve gotten to a point where the school district is bankrupt; why should charters have to pay for the school district’s inability to manage its budget?” said Dr. Veronica Joyner, founder and chief administrative officer of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia. “And now, [the SRC] is giving us less. Are they expecting the charters to fail, since they are taking money away instead of rewarding us?”
Like Palmer’s school, MCSCS has made Adequate Yearly Progress in consecutive years, and both its financial and academic records are strong. Joyner, like Palmer, is worried about the possibility of working with fewer funds.
“I am totally concerned about that,” said Joyner, who also serves as president and founder of Parents United for Better Schools, Inc. “The school district already takes almost 30 percent of the allotment given to us by the state. Now they want us to contribute more money when it’s not our failure. Charters are doing good, and there should be more support, not less.”
Joyner said she has a waiting list 7,000-plus students’ strong, which points to the academic prowess of her school. She believes that charters are a unique educational necessity that warrants saving.
“We’re talking about a school district that has failed,” Joyner said. “That budget didn’t just creep up on them like that — it’s been creeping up on them for years, and I am appalled no one saw that and did anything about it. We are already operating on much less than the public schools do. Now they are going to cut us, and expect us to do a better job with less.
“This is not fair to charter school operators, or the families we serve,” Joyner continued. “Because we are expected to do a better job than public schools — and we’ve shown that we are capable of doing that — we should have more support.”
Instead of aiming at charter schools, Joyner said, more attention should be paid to the district’s hierarchy and its plans for a new leader, since direction will no doubt come from on high. Joyner has been in education for more than 40 years, and senses a recurring pattern by the SRC.
“The district usually goes outside of Philadelphia to find a superintendent, and that has always been its first failure,” Joyner said. “My concern is we keep getting people who, on paper, can do these things, but come in and leave the district in a worse state. There are people right here in Philadelphia who can lead the district. I question [the SRC’s] motives.”
With all that’s been going on in our fair city lately, you may have forgotten that there’s a major election less than six weeks away. I think this time around the incumbents prefer it that way.
The School District of Philadelphia, and the School Reform Commission that runs it, have squandered whatever public goodwill they still had. School superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman got her nearly million-dollar payout, and instead of going away quietly, has lobbed incendiary grenades at everyone she feels is responsible for her ouster.
Most people would be lounging in a beach chair, sipping on some fruity rum drink with a tiny umbrella in it and toasting their good fortune, but not Ackerman.
She has implicated SRC chair Bob Archie, Mayor Michael Nutter and state Rep. Dwight Evans, among others, as major players in this shameful fiasco that just won’t go away. If she’s telling the truth, those three guys are guilty of serious ethical breaches and violations of the public trust, if not outright crimes.
Archie, partner at Duane Morris, one of the city’s top law firms, has been a power broker in this town for many, many years. While the general public may have just learned of him since his appointment to the SRC, the movers and shakers have long known Archie, and his reputation for getting deals done.
The problem is, the School District is not a private law firm, and deals made on their behalf are public deals using public monies, secret agendas and closed door meetings have no place in a public entity, even though we all know that in Philly, that’s generally how things work.
But Archie turned in his resignation from the SRC early this week, leaving the School District’s governing body with just two members. (SRC member Johnny Irizarry, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, quit the same day as Archie.) Mayor Nutter quickly appointed old friend and former employee Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers University, to fill one of the empty slots, but the damage is done, and the District is almost completely rudderless, at least for now.
I don’t know how he’s managed to do it, but so far Nutter seems untouched by this whole stinking mess. After all, the mayor appoints two SRC members, and he certainly played a large role in Ackerman’s departure — the hideous details of which have yet to come to light.
Speaking of which, isn’t this the same mayor who campaigned four years ago on clean government and an end to municipal corruption? Isn’t this the guy who promised us transparency, integrity and accountability in City Hall? Now he’s lobbying local rich folks for Ackerman’s buyout money and keeping it hush-hush, and if Ackerman’s accusations are to be believed, he’s turning a blind eye to corruption by sitting on a report which would blow the lid off the Martin Luther King charter school scandal, and was not averse to holding 5-year-olds ransom by threatening the end of all-day kindergarten simply to advance his political agenda.
Now, it seems to me that a man — especially an incumbent mayor up for re-election in a few short weeks — would vigorously, publicly and immediately defend himself against such vile accusations.
His opponent in November is Democrat-turned-Republican Karen Brown, who has been making some noise herself lately by demanding a number of debates with Nutter before Election Day. Nutter’s people have agreed to only one public forum, which in all honesty makes more sense for them. You don’t give an unknown opponent the opportunity to compete on your level if you’re the incumbent — especially when you’re favored to win by a landslide.
But it does leave a cloud hanging over the election in many ways.
What if the GOP had put up a serious, well-developed candidate in this race? Would Nutter’s confidence level be as high, especially considering the huge pile of hypocrisy and bad faith that has shown up on his doorstep lately?
Nutter will certainly win, and probably by the predicted margin, but when he does his first phone call of thanks should be placed to Vito Canuso and Mike Meehan, the city’s GOP leadership.
By randomly plucking Brown from obscurity rather than grooming, preparing and financing a genuine alternative candidate, Canuso and Meehan have virtually assured Nutter’s re-election at a time when a little healthy competition could have at least raised the level of discourse.
I have the uneasy feeling that we’re about to get exactly what we deserve.
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.”
Acting supt. Leroy Nunery describes 'Godfather' tactics
The long-awaited fact-finding report to Mayor Michael Nutter regarding Martin Luther King High School’s failed conversion to a charter school describes strong-arm tactics by former School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie Jr., and state Rep. Dwight Evans that were compared to something out of the “The Godfather,” according to acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery.
According to the report from Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman, Mosaica was correctly chosen by the school’s advisory committee to take over and operate MLK as a charter. But Evans, who has a long relationship with Foundations, interceded and, according to the report, “working outside the School District of Philadelphia’s public process for matching MLK with an outside operator, mounted an intense lobbying effort to change the outcome of the match process to secure Foundations for the School District of Philadelphia’s contract to manage MLK.”
The report also says that Archie, who resigned from his post as chairman of the SRC on Monday, publicly recused himself from the process — specifically, the SRC vote to confirm the awarding of the five-year, $12 million contract to Mosaica — but worked feverishly behind the scenes to support Evans’ ongoing attempt to take away the contract.
Mosaica was awarded the contract on March 16, 2001 in a vote by the SRC. Mosaica had already received the support of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the School Advisory Committee prior to the vote.
In perhaps the most damning bit of information in the 26-page report, Markman writes that Mosaica withdrew from the operation of MLK out of concern that the politically-connected Evans and Archie would frustrate the company’s ability to successfully operate MLK and jeopardize the company’s broader interests.
Reached by phone yesterday, Ackerman, who accepted a $905,000 buyout in August just months after receiving a vote of confidence from the SRC, said she had not read the report but after talking with Markman for hours “knew that the truth would be reported.”
“I lived what is in the report,” Ackerman said. “From what I have seen [the report] does exonerate my role in all of this. They tried to do everything to make me look like I didn’t have any integrity and that I had done something wrong.
“When she and I talked,” Ackerman, speaking of Markman, continued, “she told me that she was going to write the truth. I told her if she did that then it would be fine and that we could let the chips fall where they may, so I trust what is in that report.”
More than anything else, Ackerman feels the MLK fiasco doomed her tenure as schools chief.
“I think it is tragic, but I realized that it was the beginning of the end for me,” she said.
Ackerman did not want to disclose her present location, but she added that in her last few months as superintendent she was accompanied by an armed police officer.
“The last few months have been hell,” she said. “It is time for me to move past all of this. I hope now people will ask the right questions. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of questions that should be asked. There should be some kind of deeper inquiry into all of this.”
Archie disagrees with Ackerman’s recollections, and doesn’t feel the report is worth the paper it was written on.
“I am shocked and angered by the conclusions in the Markman report released today by Mayor Nutter’s office,” Archie said in a statement. “I emphatically reject the findings. They are not supported by facts, and are a reach to say the least. In some cases, they are pure fiction.”
Evans was equally angered over the report.
“I am stunned the city’s chief integrity officer would craft a document that characterizes me as a puppet master who has the ability to pull strings and make people dance,” Evans said. “That is simply not true. The report issued today, while written to suggest nefarious maneuvers, simply supports activities that have been well documented for months.”
Archie met personally with Markman. However, Evans, his aide Kim Turner, and Urban Affairs Coalition president and CEO Sharmain Matlock-Turner, all named in the report, refused to meet with Markman, who interviewed more than 30 people.
In a phone call from Washington, D.C., John Porter, president of Mosaica’s Turnaround Partners, expressed relief that “the truth had finally been told,” but expressed remorse that Mosaica would not have the chance to operate MLK, which is now a Promise Academy.
“I would say my reaction is that I’m glad it’s completed and the facts were stated and made public,” said Porter, who represented Mosaica during the entire process. “I am saddened that we were unable to work with Martin Luther King High. We felt we had built a great relationship with the parents and the children.
Mosaica, located in Atlanta, operates the Birney Preparatory School here. Asked if he felt the fallout from the MLK situation might dissuade Mosaica from pursuing other schools in the city, he said no.
“What I will say is that I am very, very disappointed,” Porter said. “Having said that, no, this will not deter us from continuing to try to establish a relationship with the school district. They are fine people. That’s all I’m willing to say about that matter.”
Foundations, with Evans’ help, has secured contracts with the West Oak Lane Charter School, MLK and the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology.
John Henderson, executive director of communications with the New Jersey-based company, said the entire process had been flawed from the beginning. He said that many events were not reported in the Markman report by the media, and he indicated that he saw inaccuracies in the report.
“Everything we have done at King for the last seven years was designed to improve the quality of education for the children. That has been our commitment during this entire ordeal. Overall, the most disturbing aspect of this entire situation is that it has taken the focus off of the students and their families.”
Henderson said Foundations will continue to maintain its relationship with Evans. However, he was not very familiar with Archie’s relationship to the company.
“It’s no secret that we have had a long relationship with Dwight in that neighborhood,” Henderson said. “In terms of Mr. Archie being an advocate for us, I would say that the relationship has been much more casual.”
Phila. School District, Pa. conduct policies may have been violated
It’s too early to predict the impact of a damning new report on the role of former SRC Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and state Rep. Dwight Evans in steering a contract to run Martin Luther King High School away from parents’ choice of school operator to one that they both had a deep connection to, but one thing seems certain — scrutiny of the School Reform Commission will increase.
The specter of criminal charges also hovers in the background.
“There needs to be some fundamental changes in how the District is administered and run,” said state Rep. Michael McGeehan, a vocal Philadelphia School District critic. “This is just the latest revelation about how dysfunctional the system has become.”
State Rep. Ron Waters went a step further, saying that he would support a deeper investigation into how the District awards all of its contracts, and make an effort to remove politics from the process.
“There are other things that might have happened too that need to be looked at,” Waters said, adding, “I hope that there is not a problem, because Philadelphia doesn’t need that.”
On Thursday afternoon, the city’s Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman released the results of her investigation into Archie and Evans’ role in securing a contract for Foundations Inc., a New Jersey based non-profit, to operate Martin Luther King High School. The contract went to Foundations despite the fact that the school’s advisory committee recommended a Georgia based company, Mosaica, to run the school.
The document sums up the role of both men at its conclusion.
“Archie’s and Evans’s actions in this matter have compromised the School District of Philadelphia’s ability to secure parent involvement in their children’s schools, to make decisions according to a fair process and to garner public confidence in those decisions.”
At its heart, the report suggests that both men violated the District — and, perhaps, the state’s — ethics policy.
How that would affect Archie is unclear. He stepped down as SRC chair Monday.
At the very least, the report could spur the city to push for more ethics training for SRC appointees as part of its oversight.
“That is a distinct possibility,” said Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald.
In the case of Evans, though, it could mean a state investigation.
Robin Hittie, chief counsel with the State Ethics Commission, would not comment specifically on the ramifications of Markam’s report. However, speaking in broad terms she said that for an ethics violation to occur a financial benefit has to be established.
“Under the Ethics Act, for a conflict of interest to be established, a public official or public employee must either have used the authority of his public position or confidential information he received by being in that position for a private financial benefit to himself, a member of his immediate family or a business with which he or a member of his immediate family is associated,” Hittie said. “To establish that a public official or employee is associated with the business, it must be shown that he, or a member of his immediate family, is a director, officer, owner or employee or has a financial interest in the business.”
Penalties for ethics violations varied, Hittie said, and ranged from fines to criminal charges.
“The Ethics Act provides both financial penalties and criminal penalties,” Hittie said. “The State Ethics Commission does not have jurisdiction to impose criminal penalties.”
Any criminal charges would have to be brought before a court, which would impose penalties.
Both Evans and Archie had financial relationships with Foundations.
Archie’s ties are less clear than Evans’. On March 16, he recused himself from a vote over the future of MLK High, citing the fact that Duane Morris had done business with Foundations.
In a statement released Thursday, he said that neither he nor Duane Morris had represented the firm since 2002.
Evans’ ties are well documented in campaign finance forms, which show he has accepted campaign donations from Foundations Inc. and its top officials. A routine Google search turns up donations totaling more than $63,000 since 2000.
Leroy Nunery seeks continued test score growth, better rapport with union
In a wide-ranging meeting with The Philadelphia Tribune earlier this week, acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery spoke optimistically about his future with the Philadelphia School District, enthusiastically about getting students up to speed in a digital age, with trepidation about the relationship between the district and the city’s teachers’ union, and not at all about his role in the Martin Luther King High School quagmire.
The runner-up to former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for the job in 2008, Nunery, who has lived and worked in the city for the last 13 years, said if he does not succeed in his present job, there is no need to even think about leading the country’s eighth-largest school district.
“I’m not going to put any further thought into it,” Nunery said. “If I don’t do the job that I’m tasked with doing today, then it won’t matter in three or four months, so that’s where I am.
“Do I believe I have the qualifications? Yes,” said Nunery, adding that he has not spoken with Mayor Michael Nutter about the job. “I’ve already been vetted through the process once. I’ve been in this seat and, quite frankly, I’m doing my old job as deputy superintendent in the current job as acting superintendent at the same time.”
Nunery, who served as Ackerman’s deputy for 14 months before she agreed to a $905,000 buyout of her contract in August, knows that there will be a national search to fill the position.
He does, however, think that he has shown the commitment required to do the job. For years he worked with Edison Schools in New York, but continued to raise his family here.
“I’ve been around a lot of folks, from labor union heads to presidents of universities, community leader and public officials,” Nunery said.
“That doesn’t mean that those things are going to buffer me, but at least I know my way around town. It’s not starting from scratch; it’s more about having a running start and there are some real advantages to that. But if I don’t get the superintendent’s job, if I decide that I’m interested in it, I’ll still be in education because this is what I’ve been called to do. As for the national search, the whole idea of looking for the best talent is something that the city is owed.”
Nunery spoke glowingly about the smooth start to the school year. However, he acknowledged that the budget cuts — the result of the effort to close the $680 million budget gap — have left the district with a skeleton staff. Cuts have reduced staff at central headquarters on Broad Street by 50 percent.
Overall, the district staff, according to Nunery, has been reduced by 30 percent.
Since schools opened last month, Nunery has busied himself by “getting out to as many schools as possible in the community, meeting with business and community leaders.”
Whether or not Nunery ultimately becomes the superintendent, the disparity and apparent inequity in the awarding of contracts to city businesses will continue to be an issue. As recently as 2003, in an overwhelmingly African-American school district, minority and women-owned businesses just got 2 percent of the pie. An anti-discrimination policy adopted that year boosted that number to 27 percent in 2010. However, fewer than half of those dollars went to African-American contractors.
Nunery said that African-Americans must do a better job of providing the goods and services that the school district needs. He used as an example the purchasing of textbooks, saying that not a lot of African-American companies sell text books.
In the past, African-American companies, according to Nunery, have benefitted in areas of providing social and support services. But in order to receive a larger piece of the pie, Nunery said, businesses will have to provide the services that the budget-strapped district requires.
“There will be more opportunities in construction, retrofitting buildings and things of that nature. That is where you are going to have more opportunities. We have got to turn some of these buildings into more energy-efficient buildings. So there are going to be a lot of opportunities for local businesses.”
Although Nunery says the district is not where it wants to be in terms of graduation rates and improving academic performance, it can point to nine straight years of rising test scores.
Nunery says this is not enough. He said that too many children are graduating from schools — not just in Philadelphia, but all over the country — needing remedial help once they get to college. He referred to a recent conversation with a local administrator in which he was told that three-fourths of the students coming out the school district need remedial assistance, mostly, he says, in technical areas.
“We have to get our kids up to speed in the areas of science, technology, math and science so that the district can be more market responsive,” he said. “We want our children to be more digitally proficient. If that is going to happen, the teachers are going to require more training in that area. It’s that simple.”
Nunery also hopes to develop a better working relationship with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. He knows that the union does not favor teacher evaluations — the city’s union chose not to participate in the state’s pilot program.
However, Gov. Tom Corbett, in releasing his education agenda earlier this week, highlighted improved standards in teacher evaluations as one of his main goals.
“This is coming, the whole idea of teacher evaluations.” said Nunery, adding that he has had a number of good conversations with union boss Jerry Jordan. “The conversation for us is about getting both sides on the same side.”
What isn’t coming any time soon from Nunery is an explanation of what he meant when describing a meeting about Martin Luther King High School becoming a charter school as being like a scene from “The Godfather.”
Nunery attended the meeting — along with state Rep. Dwight Evans, former School Reform Commission Chair Robert L. Archie and Mosaica Turnaround Partners President John Porter. Mosaica had been chosen to manage King over Evans’ charter partner, Foundations Inc., just hours earlier.
Mosaica backed out following that meeting, King never became a charter, and last month a scathing report out of the mayor’s office determined that Archie’s and Evans’ actions were inappropriate.
“What I said is in the report,” said Nunery, refusing further comment.