Donate today!
view counter

Commentary: A scandal that can't be ignored

By Helen Gym on Apr 24, 2011 10:20 PM

Recent revelations about the role of School Reform Commission Chairman Robert Archie in the awarding of a school contract that could be worth up to $60 million demand a full investigation from state agencies and a response from Mayor Nutter.

According to a Public School Notebook/NewsWorks investigation, Archie used his role as SRC chair to effectively nullify the decision to give Martin Luther King High School to one charter organization and lobbied instead in favor of the nonprofit Foundations, Inc. – even though Archie acknowledged a conflict of interest that required his recusal from voting. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman claims her top deputy was “shocked” by what went on in one meeting run by Archie and is distancing herself from the affair. Yet her statements seem to contradict what the superintendent said she previously knew and when she knew it, and they don't explain Ackerman's own lack of action. 

Foundations, which is closely tied with State Rep. Dwight Evans and has been represented by Archie’s law firm, withdrew its bid from King High School last week following the Notebook/NewsWorks investigation, citing a climate of “unrelenting hostility” from a “vocal minority.”

Foundations’ withdrawal shouldn’t mean the SRC and District officials get to retreat behind closed doors. Instead, Foundations’ decision should strengthen the resolve to investigate what increasingly looks like serious wrongdoing.


  1. On March 16, the SRC voted to give King High School to Mosaica Turnaround Partners, a for-profit, Atlanta-based charter school organization. Immediately after the SRC voted, Commissioner Archie joined Rep. Evans in a private meeting at District headquarters with Mosaica’s John Porter. After denying knowledge of the meeting details for over a month, District officials finally admitted that Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery was present  and had been ordered by Archie to call in Porter. That meeting was clearly influential. Before it occurred, Porter said he was “ecstatic” to win the King vote. Less than 24 hours later, Porter abruptly withdrew Mosaica’s bid.
  2. A parent volunteer with the King SAC reported that in a one-on-one encounter with Archie on April 12, Archie told her she “did not have a choice” in what he called “a done deal” at King. The parent said Archie offered to be personally accountable for Foundations, including writing into the deal certain provisions the SAC wanted. The parent declined Archie’s offer.
  3. The next day, members of the King SAC met with the full SRC and Ackerman in a closed-door meeting. SAC members reported that Archie seemed to question the validity of their vote, while the other commissioners and Ackerman remained mostly silent on King’s management. The two SAC members in the room were brought to tears during the meeting. They said afterwards they were “furious” with Archie’s role and demanded an investigation. 

In failing to raise any questions about Archie’s or its own behavior, the SRC demonstrates a clear double standard around conflict of interest. Last year, the SRC halted plans for West Philadelphia High School, citing a “conflict of interest” complaint against parents who had received an $8 an hour stipend to improve parent engagement from a subcontractor of one of West's potential turnaround partners. The District’s Inspector General even investigated the parents, a probe that went nowhere.

At the time, Ackerman was quoted as saying:

"If there's a perception or appearance of a conflict of interest, wouldn't you want this District to do something about it?” asked Ackerman.

Yet, weeks after Archie’s troubling involvement at King High School, no similar action has been taken.

There are still contradictory accounts of people's roles and their actions, or lack thereof.

Regarding the private meeting with Mosaica's Porter, Archie last week issued a brief statement acknowledging his presence “in his capacity as School Reform Commission chairman.” However, he has refused repeated requests by the Notebook/NewsWorks to answer questions about his overall conductOther SRC commissioners remain equally silent.

Commissioner Archie and the entire SRC must answer questions about their role in this process. Archie also needs to disclose his specific conflict of interest that required his recusal from voting but apparently not his actions behind closed doors.

The superintendent’s predictable habit of blaming others and refusing to accept responsibility can't be tolerated as a shield. Ackerman, who earlier denied any knowledge of what happened in that fateful meeting, now claims her deputy Nunery never provided her with details - and still has not. Ackerman needs to explain why she continued go along with Foundations’ bid until the Notebook/NewsWorks investigation became public.

At this point, the state Inspector General or the state Attorney General’s office must conduct an investigation into the SRC, which is a state body. Depending on the results of that investigation, further action may need to happen from agencies higher up.

Mayor Nutter, who has often distanced himself from the District’s myriad problems, needs to address this growing scandal immediately. Archie was Nutter’s choice for SRC commissioner in 2009. The best thing would be for the Mayor to quietly ask Archie to step aside and lead the call for a full investigation. In the midst of a critical state budget, Philadelphia can’t afford to let questionable behavior overshadow the effort to reinstate education funding by Harrisburg.

Allowing the corrupted process at King to remain uninvestigated will further erode public confidence in the integrity of this administration to steer itself through yet another crisis.

A version of this also appeared in the Daily News.

Click Here
view counter

Comments (42)

Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on April 25, 2011 12:59 am

Is it unreasonable to expect integrity among those at the highest levels of district governance and management?

Submitted by (not verified) on April 3, 2013 1:05 pm
Submitted by Anon (not verified) on April 25, 2011 7:57 am

And what about the students? Will King have to go through ANOTHER year of upheaval and uncertainty when they try this farce of provider "selection" next year?

Submitted by Veteran of WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on April 25, 2011 8:46 am

Thank you, Helen. You hit the nail on the head, as usual. This goes beyond King to the entire structure of public education oversight and administration, the role of the state and the lack of public accountability in that structure.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on April 25, 2011 9:41 am

What is most frustrating is that things don't seem like they will change. This type of shady behavior has been going for years, but no one with any authority will resolve it. The governor is sitting back and allowing Philadelphia schools to implode with this administration. This will help vouchers become a reality. The union is being dismantled school by school with the number of public schools being turned over to charters. Robert Archie believes he is untouchable. It doesn't make sense that he has to keep recusing himself from votes because of his many conflicts of interest. How is it that he is still allowed to be on the SRC?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 10:36 pm

Because he's a crook just like Ackerman.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 12:06 pm

Dr. Ackerman repeatedly claims that her primary concern is the welfare of children. Her supporters argue is that she offers the best opportunity for students. But...

9th and 10th graders at King are guaranteed experience at least three different educational models in their four years of high school - none of which have a proven legacy of success. These are Foundations (this year), SDP (next year) and ??? (depending on who wins the contract. This is educational malpractice that could have, and should have, been avoided. Over 1,000 students will receive a scattered education in large part because Ackerman, Nunery, Archie and Evans can't agree on who gets $60 million. Not one player in this charade has demonstrated a modicum of integrity, yet they will use words like "shocked" and "tragic" as if these events are some kind of natural disaster.

From what I've read, West Philly students have experienced the same dynamic.

Anyone who continues to support this regime is either utterly clueless or stands to benefit personally or professionally.

Submitted by Veteran of the WPHS "Renaissance" (not verified) on April 25, 2011 1:39 pm

You got it!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 10:37 pm

You're 100% right and guess what-------it just doesn't matter. they will continue to do exactly what they've been doing because they're all complicit and Corbett loves it. He couldn't ask for better help than Ackerman et al are giving him.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert (not verified) on April 25, 2011 2:30 pm

Nutter finally speaks (sort of) see:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 5:28 pm

Nutter finally speaks because he can-- this is something that is directly within his power. Archie is his appointee to the SRC, and Nutter has power over that position.

It is not you who I am really replying to, but this continual thread of "why isn't Nutter doing anything" is getting a little out of hand. I understand that everyone wants Nutter to have a vocal show on this issue, but that is unrealistic given the political structure of governance here.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2011 5:20 pm

Do you see a difference between what's realistic and what's considered moral leadership? In an election season, can the Mayor afford to play AWOL on the schools especially if they head toward bankruptcy and questionable behavior around contracts?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 5:18 pm

Well, I do see a difference here. What does Nutter stand to gain from attacking the school district? While it would please a lot of people here-- me included, trust me-- it would not only anger a lot of people but also probably prove an impotent action because he would not accomplish anything.

Ackerman and the SRC are completely aware that Nutter has no real power over them. Anything he says will just ring hollow, so he could shout all he wants but nothing would happen. While that is an option, I think we can pretty much agree that it is not his style.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2011 5:54 pm

Nutter led the call on the BRT, which was not technically his purview. He helped address the Clerk of Quarter Sessions office as well.

The point of this article is not t ask the Mayor to rail willy nilly at the SRC, but to recognize when strategically the Mayor has to get involved. Archie was his pick on the SRC. That's a big deal when there are potentially ethical issues involved; this is a Mayor who swore to keep his admin clean. In addition, its election season and voters will remember that he campaigned based on the schools.

 In any case, its encouraging that the Mayor is stepping out front on this.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 5:24 pm

This is the same person as above.

Isn't it a little ironic that you cite Nutter leading the call on the BRT when in fact he was overruled by the state on that issue? That is exactly what I am talking about-- Philadelphia's oftentimes confusing and annoying governance structure provides a lot of problems for a local official.

Also, I wasn't commenting on your article-- I was replying to the somewhat snarky comment that I replied to in this thread.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2011 6:35 pm

No I understand. I'm just saying that there are times when moral leadership and will override technical political jurisdiction. Especially in an election season, I think you're going to hear an increasing call for what the Mayor needs to do around the schools whether or not he has the power around them. Corbett will certainly not offer leadership or management options. One would have hoped a responsible SRC could have. But absent that, the logical next stop is the Mayor's office, fair or not, technically accurate or not. Politics is not about rationality, it's about moving political will.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on April 25, 2011 7:15 pm

Helen, having heard you speak several times and having read your articles, I would be overjoyed to see your name on a mayoral ballot at some time. We need real leaders.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 3:59 pm

Same person again from last evening...

I understand your point, but I also see the opposite: if you look right now at the comments for the front page article on Nutter saying the budget is the priority, you will see a bunch of people calling for Nutter to fire Ackerman. Now you know he can't do that, I do, and a couple others do-- so if he did, many of those folks would be quickly placated and then furious why he was unsuccessful. It's a lot easier for me to say, "hey, Nutter, do something," and to a certain degree it is easier for you as well ("certain degree" being because you are a public figure) than it is for him to do it.

Furthermore, I wrote it above: I just don't think it's Nutter's style to make a big show here. He can't win this battle.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 26, 2011 6:00 pm

What's the battle though in your opinion? Can he win a legal battle to remove Arlene Ackerman as Supt. of schools? Of course not. Nor is that the politically smart thing to do.

However, could the Mayor have weighed in on a host of issues around the schools - like South Philadelphia High School, like Hope Moffett (once it blew up into a front page mess). Could he have engaged with the schools in a positive way? Could he have written a thoughtful op-ed about tackling violence to offset the dismissive messaging that came out of 440? I agree with you that it does not serve the Mayor to go head to head with the District. However, the absence of any engagement with the schools and City Hall has given the impression that the Mayor is largely AWOL as controversy after controversy piled up under his watch.

The battle I'm talking about is making people believe and engage with public education, even with its messed up, flawed, and struggling system. I don't want to see him battle it out with one person or another, but I do want a battle where I see a Mayor fighting for our schools, for a vision of public education that right now is completely missing. He doesn't have to. It's convenient not to. But then don't complain when Harrisburg and everyone else turns their back on the schools and drags the city down with it.

Your commenters, the LCD, is going to want to see a showdown between City Hall and the District, but perhaps the sentiment to glean from that crudity is that people want to see a Mayor believing passionately in public education and putting out a message that there's a principled way to address things.

Submitted by teachmyway (not verified) on April 25, 2011 3:23 pm

I found it very disheartening that the local newspaper isn't even following this story, Ms. Archie should be held accountable for his actions, we are talking about the public's money, tax payers money. And they have the nerve to bash unions, teacher unions. We can't even navigate for the public's money the way he and Mr. Evens has.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 3:04 pm

Watch what happens during the Inky's live chat today. The reporter will claim little to no knowledge of what is going on, will ask us what we thing, talk a little about sports and claim that because she is a reporter she can have no view.

The Sunday report on Nunery was basically a rewrite of Hangley's article in the Notebook.

Submitted by Teach (not verified) on April 25, 2011 7:08 pm

LOL! So true. Kristen Graham constantly claims to know nothing - and she certainly seems to back that up with vacuous, unsubstantiated articles. Fortunately, the rest of the Philadelphia Newspapers education reporting team goes a bit deeper.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 9:55 pm

I think Kristen Graham is an excellent reporter....but her chats are useless. Reading these comments two minutes after reading today's chat I had to smile. I do feel she is holding back in the chats......I think privately she knows alot.

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 25, 2011 9:34 pm

While acknowledging the blandness of the online chats, to its credit, the Inquirer has devoted significant resources to its education coverage. They have three full time reporters covering public schools, charters, and higher ed. In the past year they added three investigative reporters to cover the racial violence at South Philadelphia High School, contracting and the school violence series. Kristen did an excellent job on the series.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 5:43 pm

Kristen Graham isn't a reporter. She's a shill for SDP.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 3:40 pm

Great post Helen, I was waiting for someone to point out the hypocrisy after bogus "conflict of interest" charges of the West SAC last year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 4:08 pm

Looks like it's time for Corbett and Nutter to clean house. Archie's age must be catching up to him. Normally a stand up and ethcal, albeit tough, hombre. This is very bad form on his part and if his honor holds, he'll step down and retain his credibility. The perception of malfesance is being quickly baked into this cake....

Submitted by Anon and anon (not verified) on April 25, 2011 4:05 pm

I am discouraged, disgusted, and dismayed.
I love my students and I'm good at my job, but at one point does my silence mean consent? By putting my head down and working as hard as I can, am I only perpetuating a system that allows this kind of thing to go on unchecked?
I seriously doubt that there will be any serious consequences for anyone as a result of this incident.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 25, 2011 7:35 pm

A superb analysis of this situation. I'm just curious - how much more rope does Arlene Ackerman have left? There hasn't been a scandal yet that she hasn't first lied about - only to hedge toward the truth when faced with documented evidence of her actual participation. Archie has been her biggest supporter since day one - and has never allowed criticism of her to go undefended.

Time, Philadelphia, to join the ranks of DC, St. Louis and San Francisco in throwing this destroyer of children's futures out the door, followed by her pal and, hopefully, the rest of the SRC. The take-over is a failed experiment that brought corruption in the public schools to a new level.

Submitted by Philly Teacher and Parent (not verified) on April 26, 2011 5:31 am

Note Archie's comment in the Inquirer - he is blaming the SAC at King just like Ackerman blamed (and investigated) the SAC at West. Once again, the SRC and Ackerman, et al assume no responsibility. I don't trust Nutter's "investigation" since he is tied to Archie, Evans, Ackerman, etc. When will the SRC and Ackerman EVER be held responsible for the fiscal, political and climate mess they have created in Philadelphia!

"The media, Archie said, have been relying on "hearsay" from members of the advisory committee at King about the meeting he attended with Evans, John Q. Porter of Mosaica, and Deputy Superintendent Leroy Nunery."

Submitted by MLK SAC Member (not verified) on April 26, 2011 10:02 am

Dear Archie...

If it's heresay, then prove the King SAC wrong. Please do not blame us because you got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time...with your pants down! Stop crying over spilled milked and face the fact that if SAC hadn't called you out at the SRC meeting, you would have NEVER admitted to being in that room! Remeber, what's done in the dark will come to light! You are a poor, pathetic excuse for "giving back" to community. As long as there is slim like you in charge, the children of Philadelphia will never succeed! But your time is coming to an end...and I can't wait to celebrate!

Submitted by Dolores Shaw (not verified) on April 26, 2011 11:28 am

Maybe the time has come to dismantle the SRC. It has never been clear to me exactly how long this body was to be in place. Clearly there have always been questions on its function and accountability. When hard questions were asked they often were short on answers. When does the city take back their responsibility to the young people and the future of this city. City government and its leaders seem to be reluctant to stand up and be counted about this sorry state of affairs. This can't go on forever or can it ?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 26, 2011 2:41 pm

Hi Dolores! Ron Whitehorne wrote about this in a three part series starting here: Is it time for the SRC to go?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 12:06 pm


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 5:09 pm

I wonder what Martin Luther King would think.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 6:19 pm

As someone relatively new to the Philadelphia education scene (I've been following things pretty closely for the past 3 years) I've found my self wondering: historically, just how "normalized' have scandal and corruption been for the SDP?

From some things I've read, I'm lead to believe that all of the drama of recent years (South Philadelphia HS, WPHS, Moffett, no bid contracts, suspect bonuses, Foundations/Mosaica etc.) is "par for the course." I find that a bit hard to believe, however. At the same time, I cannot understand why more people (outside of those directly involved in the education system) are not outraged by all this.

Were things really very similar under Vallas and his predecessors? Or is the current state of affairs unique to Ackerman and this particular SRC?

Submitted by Helen Gym on April 26, 2011 8:32 pm

I think the biggest issue is that we're talking about a $3.2 billion system which for the past decade has been under state control and with a School Reform Commission that is appointed without any listing of qualifications, responsibilities, or specific ethical guidelines.

Over the past decade this SRC in particular has developed into a body that has struggled around public accountablity - in my opinion, they've violated sunshine laws on several occasions, generally avoid the media, and make little effort to go out into the public as a representative body. Without an effective watchdog agency, this combination has resulted in poor oversight that's led to some particularly egregious problems with this administration.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 10:19 pm

Helen---------------------------It's I again. I apologize for questioning your stance on Ackerman. I read your article today in the Daily News and as always, you insight is wonderful. I'm just frustrated that as a life long city resident, I have never seen anything comparable with this level of abuse. I am also sick of Ackerman playing the race card and the children card anytime she gets into trouble which is at least once a week. It's just embarrassing to watch this get crazier every and Nutter attempts to gloss over it. Reasonable persons must conclude that he isn't an innocent bystander either.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 11:05 pm

I don't know a whole lot about Joan Markman, this official that Nutter has asked to investigate Archie's involvement in the meeting. But, a quick Google search seems to indicate that she's a bit more independent than some of the "investigators" that have looked into the District (she's apparently a former Asst. U.S. Attorney who helped put a few elected officials in prison for corruption). Perhaps her investigation will be a little more tenacious than the previous ones? One can only hope.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 27, 2011 7:20 am

I hope so too but don't hold your breath. It doesn't look good to me.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 28, 2011 9:32 pm

Ms. Gym--------They simply don't care what anybody think, sees or feels. When you don't care, you have nothing to lose. Hope I didn't freak you out with the Chili's Invitation. I just admire your passion and activism though I am not nearly so confident about their integrity and hope as you are.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 22, 2014 5:36 am

This helps achieve the ideal. This alliance is being presented in schools and the number of demolished public schools. Some people think they can not do that. Glen at work

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Follow Us On

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed

Recent Comments


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy