Ousted Philadelphia School superintendent Arlene Ackerman is responding to criticism after news broke last Tuesday that she was filing for unemployment benefits.
In an exclusive interview with NBC10’S Lu Ann Cahn, Ackerman made it clear she was not apologetic for applying for government aide and she is stunned the news outraged so many people.
“I didn’t want to be in this position. I think it’s important people understand. I didn’t win the jackpot. I didn’t win a lottery. What I did was get a severance because other people broke a contract.”
In August, the 64-year-old grandmother was paid $905,000 in buyout money to leave the school district. Her buyout was initially going to be paid using public funds and anonymous private contributions. The donors later backed out after critics blasted the deal's lack of transparency.
On the surface, the buyout seems like a lot of money, but Ackerman claims it doesn’t even come close to what she would have made, had she not been booted by the district.
“I didn’t walk away a millionaire. Had I’d stayed for three years, I would have made that money by working for it and I’d give it back if they want it back. If they give me my job back, I’ll come back.”
Here’s something to think about: Ackerman was guaranteed $348,000 a year, by contract, until 2014. After lawyer fees, taxes and deductions, the $905,000 buyout—plus $85,000 in vacation and sick pay--was reduced to $400,000. Ackerman says she was owed an additional $400,000, but she gave it back to the school district to give to the Promise Academies.
Though the $400,000 lump sum is more money than most Philadelphians will ever see, Ackerman persists it is not enough to last her if she decides to retire.
“I thought I would be working for three more years. I was depending on it. I didn’t get a chance to get vested in the Pennsylvania retirement system. If I had that opportunity, I would have had a comfortable retirement for the rest of my life. So, this early stepping down from my job cost me thousands of dollars a month.”
Ackerman also responded to rumors that her $573 a week unemployment check would take away from kids.
“It wouldn’t go to kids anyway cause it’s in a certain designated fund for unemployment. I was an employee of the school district. I actually paid into that fund. I’m taking from something that is rightfully mine. I’m not employed, so I’m not doing something wrong. I’m not taking from the children.”
Ackerman now lives in what she calls a “modest” home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She says she relocated to be near her two sons and their families.
“It’s definitely not Philadelphia. It was a sort of a really good place to come in and relax and heal from Philly. It took its toll.”
Ackerman says she lost 20 pounds due to the stress of being forced to leave her job. She also says she is writing a book and looking for work, but doesn’t want to be a superintendent again.