With roots in the area, and a doctorate in education and a lengthy resumé, Tracy Ocasio seemed to be a strong candidate to become deputy director for curriculum and instruction for the Philadelphia School District.
She got the $140,000 position in the Office of Academic Supports, and began working in May.
But there was one problem: Ocasio was double-dipping. She never resigned her full-time job as chief academic officer in the Columbus, Ohio, school system, where she was paid $152,000 a year.
No more, though: Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday that Ocasio no longer works for the Philadelphia School District. She has also been placed on administrative leave by the Columbus system, where her contract runs through July 2021, officials there confirmed.
“That was an individual who started with us but is no longer with us as we speak,” Hite said at a Thursday news conference. He said he could not say more about a personnel matter.
How Ocasio managed to hold two high-level academic jobs simultaneously was not clear, Hite said.
Hite did not interview Ocasio himself, he said, but her references were checked.
“I just don’t see how someone can do that in general, or work two places at one time, particularly in two different school districts,” the superintendent said. “An individual who’s working at that level in this organization cannot be holding another job in another organization at that level. That is impossible to do and quite frankly should never be allowed.”
Ocasio, who previously worked for a time as an assistant superintendent in Philadelphia and also spent time in Lancaster, Reading, and Chester, also runs a curriculum development company. She could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
She was quoted in a Columbus Dispatch story last week about digital learning in Columbus. On Saturday, Ocasio was quoted in a KYW story about digital learning in Philadelphia.
The Dispatch reported Wednesday that Ocasio had been placed on paid administrative leave in Columbus.
Scott Wortman, a spokesperson for Columbus City Schools, said in an email Thursday that the reason for the leave was “an alleged violation of Ohio ethics and conflict of interest laws, board policies, and the Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators.”
During her brief tenure in Philadelphia, Ocasio was heavily involved in the district’s pivot to remote learning, Hite said.
Her role was “significant in terms of the materials that we’re creating, the platforms that we’re considering, what we’ve learned from the spring as we move to digital learning. She had some real expertise in the area,” Hite said. “We’re at a place where we will be able to utilize all those strategies and activities, but the individual is no longer with us.”
Philadelphia’s school board did not address the Ocasio situation at Thursday night’s board meeting.
Some board members and members of the public did, however, sound off about a report released Wednesday that found the district rushed a $50 million construction/renovation project at Benjamin Franklin High School, ignoring red flags, wasting money, and endangering the health of students and staff.
Hite said he regretted project missteps, especially their effect on students and staff; board President Joyce Wilkerson echoed those remarks.
But board member Angela McIver said that those words are not enough.
“What is needed is a dismantling of the structure and culture that let Ben Franklin/SLA happen,” McIver said.
Board members privately asked questions about the Ben Franklin project as the start of the school year approached last summer, said Mallory Fix Lopez, another board member. They were told things would be fine.
Fix Lopez said the report “shows actions of indifference by the superintendent to the health and safety concerns raised by the staff” and said the board needs to be able to trust in what it’s told by the administration.
“That’s no longer easy for me,” she said.