Former Philadelphia Superintendent Applies for Unemployment Benefits After $905K Buyout

PHOTO: Philadelphia schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is shown at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia in this Feb. 18, 2010 file photo.
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Former Philadelphia schools superintendent Arlene Ackerman received a $905,000 buyout when she resigned in August but attracted a chorus of criticism after applying for Pennsylvania unemployment benefits.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law in June that takes large severance payments into account when filing unemployment compensation, but that law will take affect in January so it will not apply to Ackerman.

Ackerman's attorney, Dean Weitzman, who negotiated the buyout, said that she deserves it and the unemployment claims.

Weitzman said he did not know if the unemployment compensation board has yet approved her application for benefits. Based on her salary, she could be eligible for the state maximum of $573 a week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

"There's no reason she wouldn't receiving them," he said. "She does, like everyone else, have to go through the normal procedures."

Ackerman was bought out of her contract, essentially pushed out after she dared the School Reform Commission to fire her, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, after a turbulent three-year tenure, which included clashing with the teachers' union and criticism over her handling of racial violence against Asian-American students at South Philadelphia High School from 2009.

A statement from Ackerman, School Reform Chairman Robert Archie Jr. and Mayor Nutter said, "Dr. Ackerman demonstrated real results: three years of gains in test scores; a 29 percent decline in violent incidents; 7 percent gains in the six-year graduation rates; and lastly, Parent University where more than 40,000 parents took courses throughout the past three years."

Weitzman said Ackerman is still looking for employment, which is a condition when receiving unemployment benefits. Ackerman reportedly received $375,000 in severance after she left her post as San Francisco schools superintendent in 2006, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Weitzman said many people have the "misunderstanding" that unemployment is either a welfare-based system or a needs-based system.

"It's neither. If you're unemployed and you haven't been fired, then you're entitled to unemployment compensation. Those benefits are in some sense earned because we all contribute to the unemployment system," he said.

Ackerman became CEO of the Philadelphia School District, the country's eighth largest, in the summer of 2008. She reportedly had a salary of $348,000, twice that of Mayor Nutter. Her nearly $1 million payment was to buy out the remaining years of her five-year contract.

Weitzman said unemployment benefits were more similar to Social Security than welfare.

"You could be a millionaire and receive your $1,800 a month Social Security check. No one is asking you to leave it on the table because you don't need it," he said. "It's your turn to make your claim, and that's what she did. People want to make that seem dirty. She's not gaming the system."

Weitzman said his client had a legally binding contract which was renewed a few months before the school district "decided they didn't want her as superintendent."

"There was never an allegation that she had done something that had justified her being fired. They made a decision. They didn't want her for poilcital reasons."

Nutter said at a press conference in the summer that he became involved to limit the amount of public money spent for her buyout. Her contract entitled her to more than $1.5 million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I made them honor that contract only a few months before they renewed the contract," Weitzman said. "People should be upset with politicians that they made a decision willy nilly."

The district has had to cut $629 million from its 2011-12 budget earlier this year, though it had to cut $35 million more in the summer.

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