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Philly school leaders accept more accountability

The Philadelphia School District will meet Mayor Nutter's deadline to open to its books and sign an agreement guaranteeing heightened levels of accountability, officials said Wednesday.

The Philadelphia School District will meet Mayor Nutter's deadline to open to its books and sign an agreement guaranteeing heightened levels of accountability, officials said Wednesday.

The School Reform Commission passed a resolution authorizing Chairman Robert L. Archie to sign an "educational accountability" pact and deliver documents demanded by the city.

Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman embarrassed Nutter last week by giving him only an hour's notice before announcing her plan to save full-day kindergarten with federal Title I money. Nutter has vowed to fight for $75 million to $110 million in new funding to help bridge the district's $629 million budget gap.

The mayor has taken the unusual - and public - step of demanding more accountability from the district via a nine-page letter sent to the SRC.

Archie declined to elaborate on the SRC's position.

"Not today, my friend," he told a reporter.

But Commissioner Joseph Dworetzky said the commission's unanimous vote should send the mayor a message.

"We took him seriously," Dworetzky said.

Of the increased scrutiny, he said, "I think we welcome the involvement of the city."

Nutter has called for the district to say exactly how it would spend any additional funding. He has also asked for more frequent meetings and for information on salaries, benefits, pensions, outside contracts, audits, and other subjects.

Lori Shorr, his chief education adviser, said the heightened oversight was warranted given what the district might slash - more than 3,000 jobs, and programs across the board.

"When you're talking about this level of cuts, you need extra accountability measures so people feel good about a shared-pain solution, where everybody gives up a little of something so that kids can get a good education and be safe," Shorr said after the SRC meeting.

Ackerman, who has said she would give the mayor whatever documents and assurances he needed to feel comfortable, did not make remarks at the meeting.

Before the session, however, Fox29 TV cameras caught Ackerman saying she just wanted her "job for life back."

District spokeswoman Shana Kemp said Ackerman was joking, and referring to questions she had answered earlier in the day about her last job, an endowed professorship at Columbia University's Teachers College.

"It was a joke," Kemp said. "I know it seems like a gotcha moment because there's an open mike, but Dr. Ackerman was asked to come here, and she's committed to this district. By no means was she saying she wants to leave this job."

In an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell earlier in the day, part of a weeklong event dubbed Education Nation, Ackerman said the spat with Nutter was overblown.

"I came to this school district from Columbia University three years ago, and one of the reasons I came back into the superintendency is Mayor Nutter," Ackerman said. "And I think that the feud, so to speak, has been blown out of proportion."

She said the Nutter dustup was "a misstep, but it was not a fatal misstep."

Nutter, who was interviewed before appearing at the NBC event, agreed with Ackerman that their tiff was blown out of proportion.

"Things will happen from time to time between adults," he said. "That's the way life goes. If adults stay focused on kids, stay focused on funding and getting things done, that's what works out best. So we really need to stop talking about this. Really. Seriously."

Nutter has supported two proposals to aid the district, one for a soda tax and one for a real estate tax increase. Both are to be discussed in a Council committee meeting Friday.

The heat has been turned on high on Ackerman and the district for several weeks.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.) blasted his colleagues in the legislature for failing to pass bills that would prohibit bonus payments for superintendents and allow lawmakers to remove superintendents who are not performing effectively.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.), a vocal critic of Ackerman's.

"My colleagues chose to put education second and continue the lack of oversight over the way money is spent in the School District of Philadelphia," Cruz said in a statement.

Cruz has introduced a bill to create a referendum so voters could weigh in on whether the SRC should remain or be replaced by an elected school board.

"The SRC clearly is not properly managing the superintendent or the district," Cruz said. "My bill would give voters the option to choose the people who are running our school district."