Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. referred to a recent education bill passed by the Pennsylvania Senate as a "recipe for disaster." That phrase also describes the School Reform Commission's decision to extend Hite's contract by five years, with two years remaining on the original.
In a statement, SRC Chair Marjorie Neff said it was the right time to lock in Hite for the long term, lauding him for demonstrating "strong leadership through an extraordinarily difficult time." I wonder if she feels the same about losing scores of superb classroom teachers who left to work somewhere they feel valued and respected, or the many more who retired because they couldn't take the conditions and mistreatment in the School District of Philadelphia anymore.
Neff, a retired teacher and principal, nearly discarded 50 years of collective bargaining progress when she supported cancellation of the teachers' contract last year. She called that decision one of the most difficult of her life. She doesn't appear nearly as troubled, however, that a district on financial life-support has spent millions on bad contracts and the endless pursuit of judicial relief from its obligations.
One could argue that Hite has achieved everything he was hired to do and, thus, has earned another contract. Bright, tireless, ambitious, and evidently dynamic, I'm sure there's a lot to admire about him.
It would also be unfair to suggest that Hite alone is responsible for the catastrophic failure of reform efforts here since the state takeover. Neff and others likely will say that Hite just hasn't had the resources to achieve his goals. No one knows how that feels more than the district's teachers.
I'm puzzled by the apparent urgency to get this contract extension done now, with no state budget, stagnant test scores, unhealthy and deplorable conditions in school buildings, and taxpayers who believe they have no voice in education decisions. Could it be that the district was afraid of losing him? If so, it points to another troubling pattern that has festered under state control of Philadelphia's schools.
In a district with the highest child poverty rate in America - and dedicated but demoralized employees that have gone four years without a raise - the unelected and unaccountable SRC continues to place its emphasis on meeting the needs of central office management and charter-school operators rather than of the children and educators who spend their lives in Philly's public schools.
This contract extension is just the latest example of how the SRC's priorities don't align with what's important to the district's educators, children, and caregivers. And the latest example of this dichotomy should serve as a rallying cry to return to local control of our schools.
Our district educates some of the nation's neediest children, but lacks even basic supplies and enough critical staff to compensate for the unfair hand dealt to many of our kids. Yet, the SRC has prioritized a contract extension that affords Hite the security that Philadelphia's teachers, children, and caregivers can only dream of.
All of this reflects, more than ever, a pressing need to restore sanity and local control of our schools. A school board that was accountable to the public wouldn't be as shameless and cavalier about pursuing such misplaced priorities.
Continuing to indulge the SRC's pursuits is truly a recipe for disaster.