The Philadelphia School District, with the drafting and acceptance of two resolutions at its meeting this week, has taken two steps to further distance itself from the era of former superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
The School Reform Commission unanimously accepted both resolutions — one confirming the hire of Dr. William R. Hite Jr. as the next superintendent of the district, and another that extends the contract of Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen through the last week of November. Hite’s first day will be Oct. 1, but will consult the district on related matters before he officially takes his office.
Hite reveled in the “passion shown by stakeholders” during a series of town hall-style meetings that preceded his decision to come here from the Prince Georges County Public School system.
“That passion was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and it was all about creating better education environments for the students,” Hite said. “That inspired me and made me more excited about the opportunity.”
Hite also said the district was “ripe for reform because there are budgetary challenges forcing the district to look at the ways it does business.”
“These things can no longer be taken for granted — how we structure programs, offer support and make sure great teachers are in front of the students,” Hite said, promising to leave Philadelphia’s school district a better place than he found it. “
The school district has released the terms of Hite’s contract on its website, www.phila.k12.pa.us.
Hite’s base salary of $300,000 — $50,000 less than that of Ackerman — runs through August 2017, and aside from serving as superintendent, Hite will also assume School Reform Commission treasurer and secretary duties. In addition, Hite will become the acting executive director of the Intermediate Unit until a permanent replacement can be found.
In a further break from the Ackerman era, the language of Hite’s contract offers more SRC oversight, which in theory will lead to quicker problem-solving and identification of various school-related trends. The new oversight, however, will not impinge on Hite’s ability to mold the district.
“The SRC, individually and collectively, agree that they will promptly refer to the Superintendent any and all criticism, complaints, suggestions, communications or comments regarding the Superintendent’s performance of his duties for review, investigation and recommendation,” read, in part, the details of Hit’s contract. “Individual members of the SRC will not give direction to the Superintendent regarding the management of the School District, unless acting on behalf of the SRC.
“The Superintendent agrees that he will communicate, confer, and consult on a regular basis with the SRC so as to effectuate his responsibilities.”
Hite’s contract also spells out exactly what is to happen if either Hite or the school district decide to part ways — and what’s to be done if Hite proves inadequate and must be fired. In essence, both parties can mutually walk away at any time.
“In the event of [just cause] termination, the School District shall be required to pay Dr. Hite any salary, reimbursements, other payments and benefits due and owing through the effective date of the termination, “ read the termination clause in Hite’s contract. “But Dr. Hite shall not be entitled to receive any further salary payments, contributions or other benefits accruing after the effective date of termination.”
The SRC holds the right to release Hite if called for by majority vote by the SRC members; if that were to happen, Hite would be due his full annual salary. Hite, if he were to leave the district under amicable terms, would have to give 90 days’ advance notice; after those 90 days, Hite will not receive any further pay.
School district officials and SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos were unavailable for comment about the contract, and City Controller Allan Butkovitz hadn’t returned calls for comment by Tribune deadline.
In terms of pay, Knudsen will be paid $27,000 monthly through November, while assuming the role of chief financial officer. Once Hite assumes office, Knudsen’s pay will decrease to $22,500.
“In addition … Mr. Knudsen shall continue to serve as Acting Superintendent and Acting Executive Director of Philadelphia Intermediate Unit No. 26 and Acting Chief Financial Officer and Acting Chief Business Officer of the School District and Acting Executive Director of Intermediate Unit No. 26,” read the ratified resolution, “until such time as Dr. William R. Hite, Jr. assumes his full-time duties and responsibilities as Superintendent and as Acting Executive Director of Philadelphia Intermediate Unit No. 26.”
For Hite, however, the concern lies with the work before him, not the contract he just signed.
“We create a structure that allows for a low of engagement and involvement across multiple communities. Community engagement is a critical part of the work — not just going out and telling people what we can do next, but really talking very passionate and in depth about that. Also extend to people the same information we have,” Hite said. “I also want to send a message to students and employees; I appreciate your sacrifice and patience and I assure you better days are ahead.”