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Hite officially hired, will start Oct. 1

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School Reform Commission on Tuesday officially hired Dr. William Hite as superintendent, effective Oct. 1, at an annual salary of $300,000.

All five members voted in favor of the five-year contract, which will pay Hite $50,000 more than he receives as superintendent of the 125,000-student school district in Prince George’s County, Md., but $48,000 less than former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

The SRC also voted to extend the contract of Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen until Nov. 23 so he can help manage the leadership transition. Knudsen will continue to receive $25,000 a month until Hite’s arrival, when he will become chief financial officer and acting chief recovery officer at a compensation of $22,500 a month.

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos said that Hite’s official hiring is a step toward putting the financially and academically beleaguered District "on a firm foundation for the future."

Ramos called Hite "an eminent educator" who has "assembled good teams" and has "had to navigate a large district through some very difficult times and has done so about as well as anybody could imagine." In Prince George’s County, Hite has had to manage huge budget shortfalls and lay off workers, but managed to stay on good terms with the teachers’ union.

Hite, who has been coming to the District one or two days a week and will continue that until he formally takes the helm, said he was looking forward to the challenge of leading the District.

"I want to thank the School Reform Commission for having faith in me," he said in a phone interview.

Hite said he had already been meeting with "key stakeholders" and reiterated his commitment to start off his tenure with extensive community engagement.

"And by that I mean not just sitting listening to individuals making statements, but by sharing as much information as possible and have them look at the numbers themselves. They may have better ideas than we do," he said.

However, he added that the budget situation is still dire and that it will be a "heavy lift" to balance the books while still providing a quality education.

"Most likely we’re going to have to choose between the best of a lot of bad choices," he said. "There is no other way to eliminate that type of deficit other than putting everything on the table, understanding impact on students, and making hard decisions of what we have to do."

Still, he said, with so many people passionately involved and willing to share their ideas "at a time that we’re being forced to do things differently, I think we can emerge on the other side as an effective and high-performing student district."

The compensation package for Hite is competitive, but not as lucrative as those with Ackerman and her predecessor, Paul Vallas, Ramos said.

"This agreement is a better deal economically for taxpayers of Philadelphia than the previous two deals," he said. "It recognizes the importance and circumstances under which Dr. Hite is being hired, but it’s also aware of the market, what his predecessors made, and the job being asked here. When you look at this agreement, it’s pretty transparent what the economics are."

Hite will not be eligible for a performance bonus for a year and his severance, if terminated without cause, is nine months’ pay — not the nearly million dollars that Ackerman received. He would also get three months’ notice.

The performance bonus after the first year could be as high as 20 percent, based on what the contract calls "reasonable, measurable and objective criteria" including increases in student test scores and graduation rates, and "reduction in the achievement gap" between White and Latino students and between White and African American students.

Although the specifics of the criteria would have to be worked out, such a reduction would be measured, for example, if the graduation rate for Black and Latino males, now both below 50 percent, were to improve substantially.

Hite forfeited $125,000 by leaving Prince George’s County two months earlier than the 120-day notice that his contract there required. The District will not compensate him specifically for that, Ramos said.

Ramos also thanked Knudsen, who has been managing the District through its budget crisis and delicate labor talks. Knudsen led negotiations with the District’s blue-collar union that will save the District $100 million while avoiding outsourcing.

Knudsen said that he wants to see the District through "a major financing" of more than $200 million so it can balance next year’s budget and establish a performance management system.

That system would apply to the District’s offices and divisions, not to schools.

Knudsen also said that the agreement with the blue-collar union, in which workers essentially absorbed a pay cut of more than 10 percent by forgoing scheduled raises and giving back between $5 and $45 a week, would be "precedential" in dealing with the District’s other unions.

The contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers doesn’t expire for a year, and PFT president Jerry Jordan has said he will not consider reopening it. However, the District has built in $150 million in contract concessions in next year’s budget.