Philadelphia schools chief agrees to go

Associated Press / August 23, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA - The city’s embattled schools superintendent abruptly left the district yesterday with $900,000 promised in severance, capping a tumultuous tenure that saw increased test scores and graduation rates but also clashes with community members, the teachers union, and elected leaders.

Arlene Ackerman is being bought out of her multiyear contract with a combination of public and private funds and will be replaced in the interim by her deputy superintendent, according to a district statement.

“This decision, as difficult as it was for Dr. Ackerman, is consistent with her history, as well as recognition that for the district to best move forward, it must do so with new leadership,’’ said Robert Archie Jr., chairman of the city-state commission that oversees the schools.

Mayor Michael Nutter said he supported the commission’s decision to cut Ackerman loose but declined to say why. He also acknowledged making calls to solicit donations in order to minimize taxpayer liability for the buyout, noting that Ackerman was contractually entitled to about $1.5 million.

“Whatever you might think of that particular number, [the money] had been earned and owed,’’ Nutter said at a news conference.

Ackerman’s tenure collapsed over the past few months as the district faced a colossal hole in its $2.8 billion budget, disputes with the teachers union, and criticism of everything from her salary to her management style.

She is credited with continuing the district’s rise in test scores as well as lowering class sizes in primary grades, creating a parent-outreach program, and launching an initiative to transform chronically failing schools.