The official business was a City Council hearing: Philadelphia School District officials called to testify on the remaining $25 million in new money Council has yet to appropriate to the school system.
But the Wednesday hearing was brief - a record 21 minutes - and it was clear that last week's announcement that the district had agreed to a data-sharing deal with Council had smoothed the way for the transfer. Council President Darrell Clarke, who for the last several months has expressed frustration and disappointment with district leaders, essentially said the agreement was a reset of the relationship.
He even praised Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and SRC Chair Marjorie Neff for their service.
Still, the message was: the $25 million will be forthcoming, but we're keeping our eye on you.
"We don't want people to think that we signed an agreement and suddenly everything's going to be OK," Clarke said.
The $25 million transfer has to be formally voted on by Council later this month, but is expected to sail through. The district won't see the money until the spring, as is customary.
After the hearing, though, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., responding to reporters' questions, sounded the most ominous warning yet about the firm awarded a $34 million contract to handle substitute-teaching services. That company, Cherry Hill-based Source4Teachers, has underperformed all year.
"My patience has run out" with Source4Teachers, Hite said.
The company promised that 75 percent of open sub jobs would be filled on the first day of school. It's never come close, acheiving a fill rate in the low teens initially. The rate was 19 percent on Friday, and 22 percent the day before - and those gains were made after the district told Source4Teachers to bump up its pay rate and hire more internal staff to process candidates.
Hite Wednesday reiterated earlier statements, saying he had put Source4Teachers "on notice."
"It has to be corrected ASAP," the superintendent said of the firm's low fill rate. "If not, we have to think of other options."
Hite said he does have a target date by which the company has to meet standards or face losing its contract, but he declined to identify it. He said he was monitoring the fill rate on a weekly basis.
He said the immediate push was a "call to action" to find more qualified candidates willing to accept substitute positions. Recent retirees have been contacted, as well as current staff - the district has asked teachers to help recruit qualified subs.
Hite also addressed the issue of overcrowding at Mastbaum High, where one teacher has three classes of 77, 71 and 68 students each. He said he felt the district had handled the crowding at that school and others well.
The teacher, Lisa Zeiger, won't have relief until Monday. Her classes have been overfull since the first day of school.
Once he became aware of the situation at Mastbaum - and other schools in similar binds, Hite said - he immediately authorized positions to relieve crowding at those schools. But background clearances take three weeks to process, and there was no way to circumvent that, he said.
"We started to get on that issue immediately," Hite said.
He also said he was not comfortable with the number of nurses in city schools. Three schools have no nursing services at all; another 16 have only sporadic coverage.
"I haven't been comfortable with that in some time," Hite said.
He said the district's move to explore privatizing some health services was still on the table, and would proceed only if it would add to existing services, not take anything away from schools.