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Corbett asked to probe Ackerman’s no-bid contract

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)Read more

State Rep. Michael P. McGeehan today asked Attorney General Tom Corbett to launch an immediate investigation into School Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman's handling of an emergency, $7.5 million no-bid contract.

In addition, the Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia said he has called Corbett, who is also the governor-elect, to ensure that five district employees who have been suspended as part of a district probe are afforded the protection of the state's whistle-blower law.

Speaking outside the district's school administration building at 440 North Broad St. shortly before noon, McGeehan said his letter was hand-delivered to Corbett Tuesday morning.

McGeehan previously called on Tom Gluck, the state's acting secretary of education, to investigate reports that Ackerman had countermanded her professional staff and awarded the $7.5 million no-bid to IBS. Communications to install surveillance cameras and command control centers at 19 schools classified as persistently dangerous.

The district's response to Gluck's query is due on Friday.

McGeehan said he was asking the attorney general to become involved in the wake of the suspensions Monday of five district employees with pay, pending the outcome of a an internal investigation. McGeehan said that at least one of the five had spoken to FBI agents about the contract.

"I am gravely concerned for those suspended Philadelphia School District employees, who had the good faith and courage to bring to light the possible improprieties involving millions of taxpayer dollars," he said.

According to sources with extensive knowledge of district operations, the five employees who were suspended included two top members of the district's information technology staff: Melanie Harris, chief information officer, and Robert Westall, deputy chief information officer.

Also suspended were Patrick Henwood, senior vice president for capital programs; Francis Dougherty, the office of the deputy superintendent, and John L. Byars, senior vice president of procurement services.

While the district has said its internal probe is examining "questionable practices in other areas of business and facilities operations," McGeehan read from one letter given to a suspended employee that indicated the real focus of that probe is determining who is releasing sensitive school district documents to The Inquirer and law enforcement.

On Nov. 28, The Inquirer, citing unnamed sources with extensive business experience with the school district, reported that the superintendent had interceded to remove a contractor that had begun surveying 19 persistently dangerous schools for the installation of surveillance cameras.

The work was then awarded to a minority-owned company, IBS based in Mount Airy. Ackerman said in an interview that she had not directed that the work go to IBS, but rather had told her staff to make sure the best minority firm received the contract.