The Philadelphia School District's ruthless hunt for scapegoats and its vain, scorched-earth defense of the indefensible award of a security camera contract to a favored vendor just took another huge bite out of the district's meager resources.
In a blistering opinion this week, U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg affirmed a jury's decision to award $2.3 million to a firm that had originally held the $7.5 million contract. And, he ordered the district to pay an additional $1.3 million for the company's legal bills, the result of the district's hundreds of motions aimed at impeding the case.
At $3.6 million, plus the district's roughly $2 million in legal expenses, this drama has cost too much. It could even cost more. District spokesman Harold Lee Whack says it is "considering its legal options."
What about the legal obligation to educate children and wisely spend taxpayer funds? They are the unnamed victims of the district's blunders, but you wouldn't know it attending a meeting of the School "Reform" Commission. Not a single member has spoken publicly about the contract, making one wonder whether it can reform itself. In this case, the SRC consistently chose to squander funds to defend what the court declared reverse discrimination.
It started in 2010 when the late Superintendent Arlene Ackerman arbitrarily snatched a contract away from one vendor, Security & Data Technologies, of Newtown, which had already begun work on the job, and gave it to IBS Communications Inc., of Mount Airy, a small minority firm. After the Inquirer reported the swap, the district went on a witch hunt to find and punish leakers instead of publicly examining the questionable handling of the contract.
One of the victims of the inquisition, Francis X. Dougherty, sued the district after it suspended and fired him, trampling all over his free-speech rights. The former deputy operations chief revealed in court documents that he had been the newspaper's source and contacted state and federal authorities because he was concerned about the contract.
A federal jury in 2015 rebuked the district's rough handling of Dougherty, and, in March, the SRC agreed to settle for $725,000.
A month ago, the district settled with another casualty, former procurement director John Byars, who had been fired. Still pending is a suit by Augustine Pescatore, a former safety commander, who says he was defamed and demoted.
Ackerman left the district in 2011 and died in 2013. The lives of at least three people have been upended. The SRC should put this costly and embarrassing affair behind it, answering the question of whether it holds honest service over saving face.