District Dossier

Phila. Leaders in Jobs Dust-up

Schools chief loses fight to keep auditors off payroll.

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It’s all over now. But only days ago, the clash between Paul G. Vallas, the chief executive officer of the Philadelphia schools, and City Controller Alan Butkovitz prompted a top district official to say their behavior was worse than juvenile.

“This is an issue fraught with adults acting like children,” James Nevels, the chairman of the School Reform Commission, the appointed body that runs the city schools, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “… I won’t call it children because it insults children.”

The conflict was resolved—at least for a while—when the commission decided Feb. 24 that the controller’s office could continue a decades-old practice of having about 10 of its employees on the school district’s payroll.

The dust-up began last month, when Mr. Butkovitz, who became city controller in January after 15 years as a Democratic state representative, sought to fill three vacancies among those employees. Mr. Vallas objected, on the advice of his chief financial officer, saying that separating district and audit functions was long overdue.

The next day, Mr. Butkovitz asked to see credit card receipts from top administrators, and the counter-accusations began.

Mr. Butkovitz claimed Mr. Vallas was waging a grudge match because one of his proposed replacements had clashed with Mr. Vallas in a previous job. He also said Mr. Vallas was trying to avoid scrutiny.

“The problem is that Paul Vallas takes the view that the school district is his exclusive property,” Mr. Butkovitz said in an interview.

Nonsense, Mr. Vallas replied. It’s just better business practice to have the controller’s employees on that department’s payroll, and for the district to pay the controller for audits, he said.

He contended that Mr. Butkovitz’s replacements—including the controller’s top deputy and his community-affairs director—were “purely political.” City employees face more restrictions on their political activities than do school district employees.

“We don’t want people hidden in our budget so they can do political work,” Mr. Vallas said in an interview.

He called the move “a clumsy attempt at intimidation.”

Mr. Butkovitz said he found Mr. Vallas’ reaction “intriguing.” He added: “An auditor’s instincts are incited by that.”

Now he’s interested in looking at the district’s bond-issuing practices.

Vol. 25, Issue 26, Page 5

Published in Print: March 8, 2006, as Phila. Leaders in Jobs Dust-up

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