Supporters of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman crowded inside the school district's auditorium yesterday to commend her efforts to increase minority business in the district and condemn the Inquirer's coverage of her decision to switch contractors for security-related work at dangerous city schools.
Dozens of elected officials, community activists, retired school personnel and others praised her for not doing business as usual and for tearing down the "old boys network" of minority exclusion in business contracts.
Ackerman, who at times appeared teary, received a standing ovation when she entered the room.
She did not address her decision to award a $7.5 million contract to minority-owned IBS Communication Inc., a contract previously granted to a nonminority-owned firm. Officials said the firm was given an emergency contract to install security cameras at 19 schools.
The Inquirer reported last month that Ackerman ordered part of the contract to be given to IBS, despite the firm not being on the state's list of emergency vendors. Ackerman said she did that to ensure work went to minority vendors.
School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie drew cheers from the standing-room-only crowd, saying he firmly supports Ackerman's actions and criticizing the Inquirer for its "stinging allegations" that she "improperly steered" work to the black-owned firm.
"Dr. Ackerman has been nothing but forthcoming in this situation," he said.
He said the paper failed to report that since 2003, when the SRC adopted an antidiscrimination policy, 20 percent of contracts were to be awarded to women- and minority-owned businesses for procurement, professional services, and design and construction.
Of the 1,223 contracts awarded during the 2007-08 academic year, women- and minority-owned business participation was at roughly 21 percent.
Archie said there's still work to be done. "I want to commend Dr. Ackerman for taking this additional task as CEO of the Philadelphia School District," he said. "I support her continued effort in leveling the playing field for all Philadelphians."
More than 25 people echoed their support. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown applauded Ackerman for asking tough questions. Attorney and activist Michael Coard stressed that Ackerman had done nothing illegal, while local NAACP President Jerry Mondesire lambasted the media coverage. Religious leaders also offered Ackerman words of encouragement.
In a statement issued last night, Mayor Nutter said the city would continue to work closely with the school district in setting participation rates for contracts of more than $100,000, and to increase the participation rate of minority firms on all ranges of contracts.
Kevin Johnson, pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church, at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, said the number of minority contractors is disproportionate to the number of students of color in the district.
"Eighty percent of our kids in our schools are persons of color, yet minorities are awarded only 20 percent of all those contracts," he said. "And of this 20 percent, 10 percent is awarded to white women and the remainder is divided among African-American, Hispanics and Asians contractors."
He called the disparity "unacceptable," adding, "While we are not asking for the whole pie of the district's nearly $3 billion budget, we will certainly not accept only the crumbs."