Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has raised eyebrows by asserting that she wants control over the Inspector General's Office, which investigates allegations of fiscal impropriety and fraud in the Philadelphia School District.

To ensure that investigations are free from interference and conflicts of interest, the inspector general has reported to the School Reform Commission since the office was created in 2003.

At a meeting with top-level district executives and School Reform Commission members on April 8, Ackerman said she was surprised when a staff member mentioned a report by John F. Downs, the inspector general. She said she was not aware of the report and said she wanted him to report to her, district sources said. Robert L. Archie Jr., the new SRC chairman, reportedly said he would approve the change.

If approved by the full commission, the move would increase Ackerman's control over an office whose responsibilities include investigating complaints and allegations of wrongdoing by district staff.

In addition to playing a key role in a widening federal criminal probe of charter schools, Downs' office has handled scores of cases, and has referred many to local, state and federal criminal authorities for prosecution.

Calls to Archie and other SRC members were returned by the district's communications office. Fernando Gallard, a district spokesman, declined to confirm or deny Ackerman's comments.

"In the near future, the commission and the superintendent's administration team will continue to work collaboratively to further strengthen management-governance relations and review where there may be duplication of services, possibilities for cost reduction, or opportunities to improve efficiency," Gallard said in a statement. "In the case of any changes, both the short- and long-term impact of any decision will be fully considered.

"There is no timetable at this time for this process nor are there any agenda items dealing with the Office of the Inspector General" for yesterday's SRC meeting.

Downs, a retired captain in the Philadelphia Police Department, has been the inspector general since the office was established. He declined comment yesterday.

Civic watchdogs said they were concerned the inspector general's office would lose critical independence.

"The whole point of having an inspector general is to have a level of independence," said Alan Butkovitz, city controller.

Zack Stalberg, president of the government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, said that having the inspector general report to the SRC provided greater protection for the integrity of probes. He noted that the city's inspector general had been reined in during prior administrations.

"It has been possible for an administration to quietly end an investigation or stifle the voice of the inspector general," Stalberg said. "I'm sure there are many different models, but on instinct I would say it offers more protection if the inspector general reports to the oversight body instead of a CEO."