State Rep. Michael McGeehan continued his criticism of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's handling of an emergency $7.5 million contract yesterday, calling on Attorney General Tom Corbett to investigate.

During a news conference in front of school district headquarters, McGeehan, a Northeast Philadelphia Democrat, also asked in a letter sent to Corbett, the governor-elect, to extend protection under the state's whistle-blower law to five district employees who were suspended as part of an internal investigation into the contract.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's office confirmed that he received the letter and will review it.

Ackerman placed five staff members on a two-week, paid administrative leave Monday pending an inquiry conducted by an outside firm into "apparent inconsistencies in the distribution of prime contracts to vendors," and "questionable practices in other areas of business and facilities operations."

District officials are also expected to send documents related to the contracts to the state Department of Education by Friday.

The controversy stems from an Inquirer report that Ackerman gave a contract to install surveillance cameras in 19 schools to IBS Communication Inc., a city-based black-owned business, after a white-owned suburban contractor began the work.

A district spokeswoman said that that company, Security and Data Technologies Inc., was never awarded the contract and had not completed the work.

IBS, owned by Darryl Boozer, was selected from a city-approved certified list of vendors after Ackerman requested that a minority firm be given the job, said spokeswoman Shana Kemp. Ackerman told the Inquirer that she chose IBS after getting a business card for the company at a social function.

In a statement issued yesterday by the district's general counsel in response to McGeehan, the decision to place staff members on administrative leave during an investigation was described as "standard practice."

"This does not appear to be a case where an employee went to the press to report illegal activity by which someone inside the District committed fraud or obtained some financial gain," Michael Davis wrote.

Judging from a letter to one of the suspended staffers, McGeehan said, the investigation targeted staffers because of "apparent inappropriate sharing of confidential district information."

John Byers, senior vice president for procurement services, and Melanie Harris and Bob Westall, from the office of information and technology, were suspended, according to a district source.

Pat Henwood, the district's manager for capital programs, and Francis Dougherty, who works in Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery's office, also were suspended.

Despite the suspensions, McGeehan assured anyone with information about wrongdoing in the district that he or she should come forward without fear of repercussion.

"We have one of the strongest laws in the country that precludes retribution for any individual who sees wrongdoing . . . within government," he said. "Those five individuals should not be cowered, they should not be discouraged, they should be encouraged to tell the truth."