Deep inside Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's $348,000-a-year contract is a clause giving the highest-paid local public official a $100,000 bonus - for nothing more than sticking around for three years.

But after the Daily News spent yesterday asking questions about the bonus, Ackerman decided to "defer her retention bonus until the [district's] budget picture becomes more clear," said spokeswoman Shana Kemp.

Ackerman's announcement came after Mayor Nutter told the Daily News that the controversial schools leader shouldn't consider such a large bonus while the district is battling a budget crisis.

The district has to cut $49 million from this year's $3.2 billion budget and more than $400 million for next year. Those cuts could include layoffs, school closings, hiring freezes, and larger class sizes, among other cutbacks.

"Given the economic situation in general and specifically to the school district . . . I don't think bonuses are appropriate at this time," Nutter said.

"We need to reduce the cost of running the city, the school district and other entities. The district is looking at significant budget challenges, and it's important to exercise fiscal restraint."

Though satisfied with the superintendent's performance, Nutter said he shared his opinion with Robert Archie, chairman of the School Reform Commission, and Ackerman herself.

It's unclear when or if Ackerman will eventually take the bonus, which is due her on June 30.

"She wants to wait and see what happens with other budget sources to see how she can move forward," Kemp said.

Ackerman also received a $65,000 performance bonus last year on top of her $338,000 base salary.

Last week, Ackerman announced that she would work for 10 days without pay, her part in helping to balance the budget.

But 90 minutes after a Daily News reporter asked about her bonus and whether she'd considered other options to reduce her salary, district officials announced that Ackerman would instead work 20 unpaid days.

"Dr. Ackerman is dedicated to improving the academic achievement of students in the city's public school system and in the face of a massive potential budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, she has decided to lead by example," the district said in a statement.

The furloughs will be taken this year and next, Kemp said.

The reduction in salary and benefit costs is roughly 7 percent of Ackerman's salary, or just over $26,000.

Parent activist Helen Gym said a stronger gesture would be for Ackerman to forgo her bonus, take a 10 percent pay cut as Nutter did last year and forgo her annual 3 percent raises, which kick in every September.

"Furloughing herself is an insufficient gesture at this time," she said. "Instead I expect [her to work] more than full time addressing this crisis and . . . make an appropriate gesture about her exorbitant compensation package."

Counting her furlough days, Ackerman makes nearly as much as Nutter (he makes $167,440 after taking a voluntary pay cut) and Gov. Corbett ($174,914) - combined. The base salary of the schools superintendent in Chicago is $230,000, and the chiefs in New York and Los Angeles make $250,000.

State Rep. Angel Cruz, D-North Philadelphia, believes that not only should Ackerman forgo the bonus, but also that the SRC should consider cutting her loose. "I'm not in support of extending her contract. I'm not in support of her bonus," he said yesterday. "She doesn't impress me a bit.

"You're making your money while my kids are suffering. You should be ashamed of yourself."

But Iris Vasquez, whose granddaughter attends kindergarten at H.A. Brown School, in Kensington, sees it differently.

"She's very good. I feel she should have [the bonus]," she said. "She's been wonderful to Philadelphia."

Under Ackerman, the district has seen a rise in test scores and high school graduation rates and an overall reduction in violent incidents.

Meanwhile, those who wish to see her gone after her initial five-year contract ends may not get their wish.

According to her agreement, she gets to keep her job for a sixth year, through June 2014, if neither she nor the board gives written notice by March 1 of this year of their intent not to extend her term.

"This is a personnel matter about which the School Reform Commission has nothing to report to the media at this time," Archie said in a statement.