THE HEAD of hiring in the Philadelphia School District was escorted from her office Wednesday after it was discovered that her son had been hired for two district jobs for which he was unqualified and that she had taken it upon herself to give a group of workers raises, sources told the Daily News.
John Downs, the district's inspector general, said that his office started investigating Estelle Matthews, the district's chief talent-development officer, last month after angry, recently laid-off employees reported tales of alleged favoritism and nepotism.
"We received a number of complaints about favoritism and things of this nature," Downs said, adding that he submitted a draft of his findings to the School Reform Commission last week. "We're still investigating. We're not finished."
Several sources said that Matthews - who makes $185,400 a year and is considered a close confidante of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman - had given seven employees raises worth a combined $81,000 without SRC approval since Ackerman's exit in August. The raises came as the district laid off more than 3,000 people as it tried to dig out of a $629 million budget deficit.
Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman, said that the raises are under review and that the district would comment further on Matthews' employment status today.
Matthews was one of Ackerman's first hires, starting at the district on Dec. 5, 2008, a Friday. The next Monday, Matthews' son, Marlon Garrett, 40, was hired as an "improvement student adviser" at a salary of $22,800.
Then, last year, he was given the position of assistant program coordinator in the district's office of transition and alternative education. He now makes $50,000, according to district records.
Sources said that both jobs required a college degree and experience in education, but that Garrett graduated only from high school and took some college courses.
State ethics laws against nepotism make it a felony for public employees to use their position to benefit a close family member, with a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The raises for the seven workers in Matthews' department took effect in October and early November, before the SRC passed a resolution Nov. 23 requiring that a committee approve any hires or changes in pay. Gallard said that the raises had not been approved by the SRC or by acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery.
Matthews, who previously served as senior vice president of human resources at Wachovia Bank, didn't return a call for comment yesterday, and a woman who answered the phone at Garrett's home refused to take a message.
According to public records, Garrett lives in a home owned by Matthews in Swedesboro, N.J. He bought the house in October 2006 for $409,500, then sold it to Matthews for $325,000 three years later.