Whatever you are, be a good one.
– Abraham Lincoln
In the span of a few weeks, two superintendents have popped up on my radar.
The first was out-going School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman.
Over the last few contentious years, Dr. Ackerman has pushed some drastic reforms in Philly schools, ruffling more than a few feathers. As was reportedly the case in her former tenures as the head of schools in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, Dr. Ackerman chose to push rather than negotiate.
Her unwillingness to collect political capital meant hers was quickly spent like so many of the district’s budget dollars, and the city’s School Reform Commission moved to buy out Dr. Ackerman’s contract.
The cost was $905,000 made up of $500,000 in district funds and $405,000 in private sector donations. According to her contract, more money was due Dr. Ackerman, but she gave it back to the district with an earmark for the Promise Academies she spearheaded over the last few years.
The second superintendent I’ve been paying attention to has been Larry Powell, the head of Fresno, CA schools.
Powell, who will be retiring at the end of the 2015 school year asked his school board if he could retire for a day and then be hired back at a salary of $31,000 per year. In turn, Powell will give back the “$288,241 in salary and benefits for the next three and a half years of his term.”
It all adds up to about $800,000 and TheRoot.com reports Powell’s move is designed to ensure programs he’s started in the district survive past his retirement.
Talking to The Root, Powell said, “My wife and I asked ourselves ‘What can we do that might restore confidence in government?’”
These two superintendents paint different pictures of public service for me.
When I first read about Powell’s move, I posted the story to twitter and Facebook, prompting Gary to reply, “All government services may be replaced with charity.”
His point is well taken. Powell’s move could be perceived as a tip of the hat to a privatization or de-democratization of services for the public good.
I see where he’s coming from, but I don’t think that’s what this is.
Powell’s move to return $800,000 he would otherwise be earning while serving the remainder of his term stirs strong cognitive dissonance as Dr. Ackerman receives $905,000 to leave the School District of Philadelphia.
My initial reaction to the news of Dr. Ackerman’s buy-out was a knee-jerk, “She should donate the money to the district.”
After all, Philadelphia schools have been slashing at budgets to make up for a $640+ million shortfall. This has meant huge difficulties in maintaining (forget about improving) the education of the city’s children.
This reaction was tempered as I realized the intense difficulties I would have trying to convince myself to give up nearly $1 million.
It occurs to me, though, that I am not the leader of a school district who made decisions that (rightly or wrongly) led to some of that district’s darkest financial hours.
I understand the money here is rightly Dr. Ackerman’s. It is the end result of contract negotiations and money to which she is entitled.
Still, as she leaves, I cannot help but think of the teachers’ salaries she is taking with her.