THE PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL Reform Commission got an "F" in communication skills yesterday after members quarreled bitterly during their public meeting over the process for selecting the school district's interim chief executive officer.
The spat ended when member Sandra Dungee Glenn walked out in protest, claiming she had been disrespected by not being informed that the interim CEO was to be named during the meeting.
It was just one of several indications that all is not well at the school district, as the leadership grapples with a projected massive budget deficit that likely will result in nearly $100 million being slashed from the 2007-08 budget.
Also yesterday, school district Chief Financial Officer Folasade Olanipekun-Lewis submitted her resignation, effective June 1. And officials confirmed that Chief Academic Officer Gregory Thornton - the district's top educator - is a strong contender to become the next superintendent of Baltimore's school system.
Reform commission Chairman James Nevels insisted that no leadership crisis existed, despite the latest developments and the previously announced resignation of CEO Paul Vallas.
"You know what happens when you have very talented individuals who have been right in the thick of reform? It is a natural consequence that they are going to be lured away - because they do what they do good," he said following the meeting.
The interim-announcement spat ended with Glenn tongue-lashing Nevels and fellow member James Gallagher, before storming out to a thunderous ovation from audience members who nearly packed the auditorium of the School District Administration Building, at Broad and Buttonwood streets.
She and fellow member Martin Bednarek said Nevels had not informed them prior to yesterday that Thomas Brady - the newly hired chief operating officer - would be appointed the interim replacement for Vallas, who'll head New Orleans' schools beginning July 1.
"I am insulted by this approach, I feel fully disrespected as a member of this commission and I'm not going to sit here silently either, and allow you to [act as if] this were something that this commission has . . . provided some consensus to," Glenn said before exiting.
"I have not. I don't think it is appropriate or fair to present it to this public as if it were so, and I am not going to participate in that," she added.
She said Brady may be capable of doing the job while a national search is conducted to find a permanent leader, "but I would like to know more about his capabilities. . . . So I will not be able to support this motion."
Gallagher and Nevels insisted that the selection of an interim leader had been discussed by all four commissioners for weeks.
"This is not a surprise, this is something that has been discussed," Nevels told reporters afterward, noting that at last Wednesday's meeting he had said an announcement would be made in three to five business days.
Nevels, Gallagher and Bednarek eventually voted to appoint Brady, starting July 1, at a salary of $275,000.
"There is no malice here. Anyone who tries to [stop the appointment] is making a mistake," said Gallagher, who protested that the district should be appointing a permanent leader now, but he'd settle for an interim.
Brady, who most recently served as the chief business operations officer for Washington, D.C., public schools, appeared to take the drama in stride.
"I didn't expect that, but I don't personalize it. I did notice one spectator in the back got up and said, 'Brady, he lost last night. Now we're giving him a job. What's that about?' " he said, referring to unsuccessful mayoral candidate Bob Brady.
Interim CEO Brady, 56, said he would like to be considered for the permanent chief-executive position, but would remain focused on his new assignment.
The retired Army colonel said he plans to take a hands-on approach in both business and academic matters.
"Staying on the business side would hinder the academic reforms," he said.
Brady was hired in March to be chief operating officer, overseeing human resources, facilities, transportation and information technology.
Yesterday Nevels said that position will now be filled by Fred Farlino, who had retired as interim COO and is now returning.
Olanipekun-Lewis's replacement will be James Doosey, currently the reform commission's internal auditor, who will be paid $175,000 to serve as the interim chief financial officer. He had been the reform commission's first financial chief in 2002.
Nevels declined to say why Olanipekum-Lewis had resigned, and attempts to reach her were not successful.
The reform commission has set June 30 as the deadline to hire a firm to conduct a national search for a permanent CEO, Nevels said.
The search will include input from parents, teachers, administrators, lawmakers, members of the business community and others, he said.
In other news, the reform commission voted down eight applications to open new charter schools in the fall and deferred making decisions on 11 other applications until October.