Does no one in the school system – including Jefferson County Board of Education officials  – know how to use Google?

Because if they did, maybe they would have seen this one coming.

With great fanfare, the Courier-Journal announced today five new members of Donna Hargens’ “cabinet,” part of Hargens’ reorg of the JCPS central office.

When we looked at the list, all the new members were familiar or fairly familiar. Except one.

Which we didn’t much remark on.

Then, our phones started ringtoning, or whatever iPhones do now, with advice to “check out the new hire from Philadelphia.”

So we did. And what we read about Jamilah Fraser was, ah, interesting, to say the least.

From the CJ story:

• Jamilah Fraser, who will become the chief diversity, community relations and communications officer. She previously served as the chief communications officer with the Philadelphia Public School District and also worked in the communications division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She also has print and broadcast experience.

Hargens said three of the five including Fraser will start on March 12.

“All five of these people bring a lot of expertise and have a track record of proven success,” Hargens stated in a news release.

Fraser brings a lot of expertise, but we see in our crystal ball some serious future conversations about whether it’s the right expertise.

A quick search (just go to Google and type in “jamilah+fraser+philadelphia,” people. Not that difficult) shows that Fraser left after 10 months of being part of what was arguably one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the School District of Philadelphia under former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

According to the City Paper, Fraser – JCPS’ new communications person – was part of a communications team that spent its time not working for the Philly school board, but lionizing Ackerman:

Among the dirt the sources dish is that Fraser and her two deputies spent their time promoting Ackerman, not the district, and worked to coordinate some of the pro-Ackerman rallies and campaigns — including the goodbye video Ackerman filmed that briefly sat on the district’s website before angry officials took it down. 

The Ackerman video (which we helpfully included) runs more than 13 minutes and includes the kind of group love people generally don’t get till they’re dead. Grave dead, not career dead.

Unfortunately, city officials didn’t agree, and Ackerman was in the middle of a months-long showdown that generated headlines like this in the Huffington Post:

Arlene Ackerman, Philadelphia School Superintendent, Dares Commission To Fire Her

Officials wanted to dump her because of minor issues such as the Philadelphia system’s 44-percent dropout rate. (JCPS’ dropout rate is about 25 percent.) And the fact the school system was running a $629 million deficit.

Ackerman ultimately was given about $900,000 to go away last August after two years on the job. Plus unemployment. As they say in the Army, you can’t make this shit up. And, by the way, after Ackerman was fired in San Francisco in 2005, she got a $375,000 payout, then applied for unemployment there.

When Ackerman left Philadelphia, Fraser left. Except Fraser and two other members of Ackerman’s staff stayed on the school board payroll. This is from a news story last September by Fox 29:

Fox 29 Investigates has learned three associates of Dr. Arlene Ackerman are still on the Philadelphia school district payroll even though they’ve left the district.  All three worked in the district’s communications office for Ackerman, the former superintendent who received a $905,000 buyout. Fox 29 Investigates has obtained the “settlement agreements” and “pay-out records” for the three well compensated public relations workers, who left the school district when their former boss, Ackerman, was pushed out. Obtained under the state’s Right To Know law, the documents show the three women will be paid their six-figure salaries for three months. Documents also show they’ve already received lump sum payments of thousands of dollars for unused vacation and personal time, Total cost to taxpayers is nearly $134,000.

Jamilah Fraser, the former chief public information officer, earned $170,000 a year. Under the settlement, she’ll be paid $39,000 through November 30th. She’s already gotten that lump sum of $13,000 for unused vacation and personal days.

Ah, but it gets better. Fraser also got unemployment. Of course.

Fraser remains a defendant in a suit by a former Philadelphia school executive who claims he was fired by Ackerman after it was discovered she’d steered a huge no-bid contract to a minority firm.

This is from a story in the Philadelphia Tribune from January 20:

Byars’ suit alleges he was made the scapegoat when critics decried a no-bid contract awarded to minority firm, IBS Communications Inc. Byars alleges that former superintendent Arlene Ackerman not only steered IBS to the contract, but signed off on the $7.5 million plan, even though there were plans to award that contract to the Newton, Bucks County-based firm Security & Data Technologies.

Byars filed his suit Jan. 11, and named acting school superintendent Leroy D. Nunery II, Ackerman, the SRC, the School District of Philadelphia, Robert Archie Jr., Denise McGregor Armbrister, Johnny Irizarry, Estelle G. Matthews, Jamilah Fraser and Shana Kemp as defendants.

The story reports Byars charges that when word leaked in November, 2010 that media outlets were preparing an exposé, Ackerman and other school officials devised the plan to pin it all on him.

Our sources today tell Insider Louisville there is more … lots more!

We’ve requested an interview with Hargens, and we’ll be requesting Fraser’s resume and application under the Freedom of Information Act.

And I guess, if you have to look for a silver lining to this dark cloud, at least Hargens didn’t hire Ackerman.



Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.