This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
William Hite, nearing the end of his third year as superintendent, got positive marks from the School Reform Commission in his annual performance review.
He was eligible for a $60,000 bonus, but declined to take it, citing the District’s budget woes.
The review covered the 2013-14 school year, a time of particular turmoil with 24 school closings and major cutbacks in personnel and services to schools.
"Surviving this year was possible due to Dr. Hite’s strong leadership as well as the commitment and hard work of teachers, administrators, families and students who gave more and made do with less to keep Philadelphia’s schools together," the SRC wrote. It thanked him for his "exceptional work, which, in any other context, would merit performance compensation."
Hite, who earns $300,000 a year, has not taken a raise since he took the job in the summer of 2012, according to District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. Hite did take a 10 percent pay cut amid the budget woes of fall 2013, but his full salary was restored one year later. His performance-based contract provides for a bonus of 20 percent of salary.
The SRC rated Hite in five categories: student growth and achievement, systems leadership, District operations and financial management, human resource management, and professionalism. He received a "proficient" rating on all of these except for operations and management, for which the SRC gave him its highest rating, "distinguished." Other possibilities were "needs improvement" and "failing."
The SRC’s review process has fallen behind, Gallard said, due to "flux" at the SRC and its singular focus on stabilizing the District’s finances. He will receive his next review, covering the 2014-15 year, in the fall, Gallard said, putting the schedule back on track.
Hite has known nothing but financial and political turmoil since leaving the superintendency of Prince George’s County, Md., schools to take the Philadelphia position. The state made decisions that slashed state and federal aid to local school districts, and Philadelphia took the brunt of the cutbacks.
Barely in the door, Hite was forced to manage austerity. He presided over layoffs, slashed school budgets, and shrinkage of the District’s central office, all while under increasing pressure to improve student achievement.
He has closed dozens of District schools, most with low enrollment and poor academic records, and converted more to charters in the name of "turnaround," continuing predecessor Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools initiative.
But he has sought to limit the growth of new charters, saying their unfettered growth makes planning impossible. Pennsylvania’s current system for financing districts and charters presents leaders with a Sophie’s Choice: Every dollar that goes to a new charter school results in fewer services for students in District schools. But the state legislature required the SRC to reopen the charter pipeline as a condition for approving a new cigarette tax that funnels tens of millions of dollars to the District.
A former teacher and school principal originally from Virginia, Hite is an alumnus of the Broad Academy, which specializes in training non-educators to run school districts on a more business-oriented, accountability-focused model.This association has brought severe criticism from local activists, who see it as evidence that Hite’s agenda is to privatize as many schools and services as he can.
Hite says that his goal is to manage finances, secure more money for the district, and improve education for all the city’s students.
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