New charges call for serious investigation into King High controversy
by Helen Gym on Sep 19 2011 Posted in Commentary
The Notebook/NewsWorks’ latest report on the controversy surrounding the awarding of a charter for Martin Luther King High School, a five-year contract worth an estimated $12 million a year, is a shocking indication of the level of potential interference in both improperly influencing a process and undoing a School Reform Commission vote on a major contract decision.
For whatever reason, the mayor has waited too long to issue a report from his chief integrity officer. The accusations made by former superintendent Arlene Ackerman are too serious to go without a full investigation. The CIO’s office does not have sufficient authority to investigate properly. Key people must completely explain their actions.
We need a higher – and more serious – authority involved.
Ackerman’s interview with reporter Bill Hangley, Jr. indicates that at least four formal meetings occurred around the King decision.
A key meeting was first reported by Hangley last spring. That was the pivotal meeting, immediately following an SRC vote, which involved SRC Chair Archie, state Rep. Dwight Evans, then-deputy superintendent Leroy Nunery, and the CEO of Mosaica, the winning bidder for the King contract. Following that meeting, Mosaica abruptly pulled out of King. At the time, Notebook/NewsWorks also detailed another meeting prior to the SRC vote involving the full SRC, Ackerman, and two parents from the Martin Luther King High School Advisory Committee (SAC).
The most recent story shows that according to Ackerman, at least two additional meetings took place during the controversy – one involving Ackerman and Evans followed by another meeting involving Ackerman, Evans, and Archie. These meetings were specifically about the King contract and, according to Ackerman, it appears that threats were made toward her in order to influence her recommendation.
People are right to question Ackerman’s interpretation of what she deems a threat. This is, after all, someone who contacted the Philadelphia Police Department because of “threats” to her life by a news reporter merely looking for an interview.
But the accusations Ackerman makes are not just about the level of threats. Her allegations – which demand investigation – indicate that there were multiple attempts to influence the process and decision-making around the King contract. Many questions still exist:
Were Archie and Evans working together to represent the same interests?
Were any other influential individuals involved in or aware of what was happening with this contract?
Why didn't Ackerman or Nunery disclose this information earlier?
The problem is that the person appointed to conduct the investigation – Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman – doesn’t have the kind of necessary teeth to determine how serious this situation is. Since it lacks subpoena powers, the CIO’s office cannot compel anyone to answer questions. Those who do are not under oath. The CIO's investigation may only be a small part of the real story.
Given those boundaries, we need a stronger authority – the state Inspector General or even the U.S. Attorney General's office. Millions of dollars in federal turnaround funds are invested in King High School. Equally as important is the sense of public trust.
The mayor will name two new commissioners to the SRC. In order for his appointments to start fresh, we need a clean slate and that starts with clearing the record on Martin Luther King High School.