William R. Hite Jr. is here for the long haul.
Philadelphia's schools superintendent is poised to get a five-year contract extension - to Aug. 31, 2022 - pending the School Reform Commission's formal approval Thursday of the resolution it crafted to memorialize the deal.
Hite's base pay, now $300,000, would remain the same, and provisions in the contract that allow for performance bonuses would be removed. The superintendent would receive a salary increase only if Philadelphia School District teachers do, and at the same rate as the rank-and-file.
SRC Chair Marjorie Neff said in a statement that it was the right time to lock Hite, 53, in for the long term. His contract was to expire in 2017.
"It is crucial that we ensure leadership continuity in the School District of Philadelphia," Neff said. "Dr. Hite has demonstrated strong leadership through an extraordinarily difficult time, provided sound fiscal oversight, and implemented a vision that builds on our school system's strengths with a focus on equity and high expectations."
One source close to the negotiations said that Commissioner Bill Green was particularly insistent on signing Hite for the foreseeable future, believing that the last thing a district beset by turmoil for the past several years needs is leadership change.
"Someone comes in, they change the plan," the source said. "We have a plan, and Dr. Hite's never had the resources to implement it."
Hite was greeted with massive budget shortfalls from the day he arrived in 2012. He has had to oversee cuts and make annual trips to City Council and Harrisburg to plug spending-plan holes.
School District leadership had hoped this would be the first year of stability and assured funds, but money woes continue.
Hit hard by the continuing state budget impasse, the district recently had to borrow $250 million just to make payroll through the end of 2015.
Hite is generally well regarded by city and state leadership, though City Council President Darrell L. Clarke expressed frustration with the district over the spring and summer.
Clarke had concerns about transparency and money paid to central-office administration. Lately, though, conditions between Council and the district seem to have improved. Hite and the SRC have agreed to an intergovernmental data-sharing deal and more say-so for Council, which seems to have placated Clarke.
Despite the district's money problems, Hite has pushed innovation and equity. He opened three high schools in North Philadelphia last year and plans two more new schools in the fall, and has repeatedly called for stronger options for students in schools close to where they live.
But he has also drawn the ire of some education-watchers, who say he has shut out communities, particularly in a recent move to turn three struggling city schools into charters. Others have protested his moves to outsource substitute teachers.
Gov. Wolf said in a statement that he had "visited many schools in Philadelphia with Superintendent Hite, and his enthusiasm toward his students and the mission of educational improvement is always refreshing. I look forward to continuing to work with him to improve schools and the education of children."
A spokeswoman for Mayor-elect Jim Kenney said that he supported the deal. The district is in turmoil, said Lauren Hitt, and "to put it through a leadership change at this time wouldn't make any sense."
The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, an activist group formed by former teachers, objected to the extension, saying: "The SRC should not be locking the district and its stakeholders into a seven-year contract."
The contract gives Hite some assurance that whatever governance changes come down the pike, his job is secure. Three SRC members' terms will expire by 2017, and both city leaders and the governor have said they favor an eventual return to local control, which could come in the next few years.
The superintendent, who has bought a home in Center City, said he was "very appreciative of the SRC and the fact that they've expressed confidence in the work that we're trying to accomplish. There have been a lot of plans in Philadelphia over the past decade, and the worst thing that can happen right now is, we hit a reset button."