Amid a standing-room-only crowd on Wednesday, School Reform Commission (SRC) chairman Robert L. Archie, Jr. and a parade of witnesses, including businessmen, educators and legislators praised school superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's commitment to minority business and assailed The Inquirer's coverage of her decision to award a no-bid emergency $7.5 million contract for school safety.
"I do not believe that she steered work to any particular vendor as The Inquirer reported from unidentified sources," Archie said.
Archie also criticized the newspaper for failing to provide the historical background of the school district's antidiscrimination policy, adopted in March 2003. He also said the Inquirer failed to report that the school district has set a goal that 20 percent of its contracts should be awarded to firms owned by minorities and women for professional services, procurement and design and construction work.
"There is still work to be done," Archie declared, "and I'd like to commend Dr. Ackerman for taking on this additional task . . . for implementing the SRC's antidiscrimination policy."
Speakers including J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown were fiery in their defense of Ackerman and blistering in their criticism of The Inquirer. Mondesire called the newspaper's headlines "contemptible" and said the NAACP was prepared to defend inclusion in "the boardroom, the courtroom, the living room – wherever there is a need."
On Nov. 28, The Inquirer, citing unnamed sources with extensive school district business experience, reported that the superintendent had interceded to remove a contractor which had begun surveying 19 persistently dangerous schools for the installation of surveillance cameras.
The work was then allegedly awarded to a minority-owned company, IBS Communications, Inc., based in Mt. Airy. Ackerman said in an interview that she had not directed that the work go to IBS, but rather that she told her staff to make sure that the best minority firm received the contract.