The board that runs the Philadelphia school system has created a new management structure for the 146,000-student district, in the hope that the new leaders can tackle a looming $61 million budget shortfall.
Thomas Knudsen was hired with the new title of chief recovery officer, a position in which he will function both as superintendent and chief financial officer. Mr. Knudsen, who previously led a turnaround effort as chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Gas Works, will work on a six-month, $150,000 contract.
Penny Nixon, formerly the associate superintendent for academics, becomes the chief academic officer. She and Mr. Knudsen, who has no background in education, will report directly to the district’s governing board, the School Reform Commission.
Leroy Nunery, who had been the acting superintendent, and Michael Masch, formerly the chief financial officer, are both staying on as special advisers, but will take pay cuts.
Mr. Nunery will also report directly to the commission and focus on examining how business and services are delivered to schools—essentially heading an effort to decentralize some of the district’s operations. Mr. Masch will report to Mr. Knudsen and continue to work on financial matters.
After former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman resigned last summer, Mr. Nunery became the acting schools chief. Now, with Mr. Knudsen assuming those duties, district leaders are hoping they can close the shortfall in the $2.8 billion budget for fiscal 2012 with salary cuts and reductions to programs such as gifted and bilingual education.
But a report released last week by the city controller raises questions about the district’s financial viability. In the report, the controller estimates that the district needs to pare costs at a rate of $400,000 a day through the end of June to balance the budget, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. If the district could not formulate a plan to address the funding gap quickly, the controller indicated he would include a warning in the financial report that is sent each year to bond-rating agencies and bondholders.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 2012 edition of Education Week as Recovery Officer’ to Head Philadelphia Schools