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Crimes & Misdemeanors

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2658469495_69fe07a0d6_z.jpgArlene Ackerman has decided to go down with guns blazing.

After spending days in hiding, the embattled Philadelphia schools superintendent showed up at a district meeting on Thursday and put on quite a show.  She entered to a song by Sade Is It A Crime! She read a poem by Maya Angelou, an anthem to bravery and courage. She did a little dance. (I am not making this up,  You can read about it here.)

And she delivered a defiant message to her bosses at the School Reform Commission.

"Sentence me, I dare you! Or set me free."

My bet is the SRC will pick the "set me free" part, if you define that as giving Ackerman her walking papers.

Ackerman has always had the subtley of Vlad the Impaler in her dealings with - well, with everybody.  And she used the meeting to set up a stark dichotomy between her and her enemies - unnamed enemies, by the way.

"Is it a crime," she asked the crowd, "to believe all children can achieve?"

If it is, then she is guilty of that crime, Ackerman said.

To reiterate, she believes in children and if you oppose her you are against children.

You are just creatures of the "political sandbox," as she put it.

There's always been a tinge of narcissism in Ackerman's act, but it now seems to have consumed her.  When she says "It's all about the children" you can't help but hear "It's all about me, me, me."

And when she casts her enemies - again, unnamed - as the personification of Evil and declares herself  as the essence of Goodness, she's not leaving much wiggle room for, say, a compromise.  Either you do things her way or you are Satan. It's as simple as that.

For all the sturm und drang, there's something missing from Akcerman's script: What exactly happened to cause this rift? What exactly was the evil deed Mayor Nutter and the SRC did?  The public record is murky.

There are two things that happened in recent weeks that could have been the instant cause. One was the district settling an arbitration complaint filed by the teachers union over layoffs at Promise Academies, the district-run schools that get additional money and staff in a bid to improve lousy academic performance.

Ackerman argued that the union members who teach in those schools should be exempt from seniority rules - and therefore not get laid off with the 1,500 teachers who did.  The union argued that stance was a violation of its contract and said the layoffs should be done by strict seniority. 

Last week, the district dropped its fight against the union complaint.  In other words, the PFT won. The teachers in the Promise Academies who lack sufficient seniority will be laid off and their places taken by other teachers. 

My question is: Was the decision to end the fight with the PFT forced upon Ackerman by the SRC? She offered no public comments on the move. 

 Two, Ackerman wanted to have an additional 11 Promise Academies this fall, but the SRC scaled that number back to 3, citing budget considerations.  Clearly, she was not amused by that decision.  Then again, she is never amused by anyone who disagrees with her.

The details of the actions are actually less important than the symbolism: It shows that Ackerman is not in control of decisions being made within the district.  The SRC has asserted itself and used its veto power over her.

And this makes them evil incarnate?  I'd prefer something a little more dramatic. These sound like normal policy disagreements that happen in the life of every organization. Not major crimes, but misdemeanors.

Ackerman's problem at this point is a political one.  To hold her job, she would have to rally all her allies to send a message to the SRC that it must stand down.

Of course, that's hard to do when you don't have any allies. There was a perfunctory attempt the other day to play the race card over Ackerman's dilemma And what racist demon was out to get her?  Well, the protesters couldn't point to our black mayor or the black chair of the SRC, so it must have been the media.  The whiter-than-white media was to blame.

One protester even burned a copy of the Inquirer outside School District Headquarters to send a message.  Flames. Heat. The Devil.  Get it?

If I was the owner of the Inquirer I would encourage the protesters to have another rally and set fire to a huge mound of newspapers.  Anything to help circulation.

Since she arrived in town, Ackerman has either dissed, ignored, fired or betrayed her allies inside and outside the district.  The woman has no friends - at least friends who could be of use to her in this moment of need.  

When you work hard to alienate everyone you end up being...well, alienated. Alone.

Fortunately, for the superintendent she has her self-love to keep her warm. And, sooner or later - after she has done more damage to the cause of public education - she will walk away with her seven-figure severence package.

She will be set free.  And so will we.

-- Tom Ferrick


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