IN FALL 2013, Superintendent William Hite Jr. announced that he was taking a 10 percent pay cut in keeping with the fiscally challenged district's theme of "shared sacrifice."
He said that nine top administrators also would take pay cuts. That didn't happen, but Hite consented to a $30,000 salary reduction amid tough union negotiations, a budget shortfall and fewer resources available in schools.
It turns out that Hite's share of the sacrifice had a shelf life of one year. His cut was restored in October under an amendment to his contract that returned his annual base pay to $300,000, according to a November 2013 document released by the district this week to the Daily News.
Many Sunshine Law advocates believe that the change to Hite's contract violated the law, but the district says it's on solid legal ground.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said the amendment was official business and should have been handled in a public meeting.
"Creation of a contract or a change to an existing contract is 'official action' under the Sunshine Act, which can only take place at a public meeting and only after an opportunity for public comment," Melewsky said. "It is required by law."
The district says its process followed the law.
"The addendum for the contract was a voluntary reduction that he requested himself for one year," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.
"It is the opinion of the General Counsel of the School District of Philadelphia [Michael A. Davis] that it did not need a vote from the School Reform Commission for a voluntary reduction," Gallard said.
Negotiations over salary are exempted from the Sunshine Law and can be discussed in executive session, Gallard said.
But public discussion should have taken place before a vote on the amendment, Melewsky and other advocates contend.
Hite signed the document Nov. 26, 2013. It also was signed by then-SRC member Wendell Pritchett and by current commissioner Feather Houstoun. Davis and a witness identified as Kathleen Gallagher also signed the amendment.
Gallard said the document was not released to the public, but added, "It is a public document."
Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Open Records Office in Harrisburg, said: "Taxpayers are entitled to know about the actions their public officials are taking. But when you're doing something like this, acting in secret, it adds to the decay of public trust."
"Evidently, 'shared sacrifice' expires after 12 months," said Alison McDowell, a district parent and member of Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an advocacy group suing the district claiming a Sunshine Law violation occurred at the SRC meeting at which members voted to nix teachers' health benefits.
"What kind of leader would resume his regular salary while the teachers' contract is in question and our children go without? Not the kind of leader Philadelphia's students deserve."