Community, religious, and business leaders Wednesday continued to defend School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's decision to award an emergency, $7.5 million no-bid contract to a small minority-owned firm, calling media accounts and criticism of her actions a "witch hunt" and a "bias-created cloud."
"Stand strong," W. Cody Anderson, president of ACG Associates and an owner and manager of several radio stations, told Ackerman at Wednesday's School Reform Commission meeting. "You are incurring the fear and rage of individuals who neither want nor support the economic health of minority communities."
For too long, he said, minority-owned firms have been relegated to subcontracting and barred from advancing to prime contractor status.
A Nov. 28 Inquirer story described how Ackerman overrode her professional staff and abruptly replaced a firm that had begun preliminary work on a project to install security cameras in 19 schools deemed "persistently dangerous."
The contract ultimately went to IBS Communications Inc., a firm Ackerman had mentioned to her staff during an earlier project at South Philadelphia High School. She said she produced its business card and told the staffers to "find some work" for the company.
IBS is not on the state list of approved contractors for emergency work, though the district says it is on the city list and that suffices.
On Tuesday, State Rep. Paul Clymer (R., Bucks), the incoming chairman of the House Education Committee, accused Ackerman of "making up the rules and regulations" for contracts.
At the SRC meeting, the Rev. Terrence Griffith, first vice president and political-action chairman of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said it was time to put aside speeches.
"I think now it's time for us to do battle," Griffith said. "We cannot do battle within the confines of these walls. We must take the fight to the battlefields."
He then described how the Black Clergy would meet, plan, and call to action those who were serious about protecting their children's futures.
Griffith was among several speakers who addressed the SRC a week earlier, praising Ackerman and charging that news articles about the contract were fueled by opposition to the district's efforts to increase the number of contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned firms. The district has a goal of awarding 20 percent of its business to companies owned by minorities and women.
The firm Ackerman replaced - Security & Data Technologies Inc. of Newtown - had pledged to give two-thirds of the work, or about $5 million, to minority- and women-owned firms, according to internal district e-mails obtained by The Inquirer.
Ackerman has denied that she personally made the decision to give the work to IBS, as sources familiar with the district's business operations have told The Inquirer. She said she directed her staff to make sure minority firms were involved.
State Rep. Michael P. McGeehan (D., Phila.) has asked Attorney General Tom Corbett to launch an immediate investigation of Ackerman's handling of the emergency no-bid contract.
And he has sought to ensure that six senior district employees suspended on Monday are afforded the protection of the state's whistle-blower law.
The six were suspended with pay pending the outcome of an inquiry by an outside counsel into the district's business and operations departments. The inquiry is also aimed at determining who leaked sensitive district information to The Inquirer.
Also on Wednesday, the SRC continued to hear from charter school representatives who urged the commission to vote on their applications to add grades and expand enrollment.
Former City Councilman Angel Ortiz spoke on behalf of Boys Latin of Philadelphia - an all-male college-prep high school in West Philadelphia - which wants to add a middle school and add 50 more seats to the high school.
Ortiz, whose 16-year-old son attends the school, said that for 30 years the district has been trying to reduce the high dropout rates among African American and Hispanic male students.
Thanks to the academic environment and structure at Boys Latin, he said, "you know that kids are not going to drop out."