Spurred in part by former Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's $905,000 buyout package, the Pennsylvania Senate on Monday approved a bill that would limit the amount school systems could pay departing leaders.

The bill passed, 44-0, in the state Senate and now heads to the House for consideration.

Ackerman was paid almost $1 million to leave the Philadelphia School District in August. The huge payout drew statewide furor and was especially painful for a district plagued by budget woes. The school system faces a $218 million shortfall for next year.

The bill would require severance packages to be spelled out up front in public records. It would also cap the payouts of superintendents or assistant superintendents who leave with more than two years remaining on their contracts to the equivalent of one year's salary and benefits.

Those who leave with less than two years on their contracts could receive no more than half of the total salary and benefits owed them under the remaining contract.

It would also limit payouts for unused sick leave for some employees.

Ackerman was paid $905,000 plus about $83,000 for unused personal and vacation days. The School Reform Commission attempted to solicit anonymous donations to pay $405,000 of that package, but widespread public concern about keeping the donors' identities secret scotched that deal.

The cash-strapped district ultimately bore the responsibility for Ackerman's entire buyout package, even as it laid off staff and slashed school budgets.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Allentown schools chief Gerald Zahorchak, a former state education secretary, was paid $250,000 to leave his post last year.

Payouts made to Ackerman and Zahorchak have also drawn the attention of state Auditor General Jack Wagner, who has vowed to audit all school superintendent separation agreements.

Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.