ThinkFest: William Hite on the State of Philly Schools and America’s “Dirty Little Secret”

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People who ask if money spent on Philly education is being wasted don’t ask the same question about richer suburban school districts, Philly School Superintendent William Hite said Friday during an appearance on the ThinkFest Main Stage.

Hite referenced the Lower Merion school district, which spends $10,000 more per pupil than Philadelphia, before mentioning a discussion he recently had with M. Night Shyamalan, the director and author of a book about education reform.

“I’m quoting him: ‘You know, I’m going to share a dirty little secret: America is racist,'” Hite said.

“There’s no one else that’s reduced its workforce by the amount that we’ve reduced, there’s no one else that’s closed the schools that we’ve closed — not even on a percentage basis,” Hite added. “If we’re going to talk about waste in Philadelphia, let’s talk about waste everywhere else.”

Three other takeaways:
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ThinkFest Preview: William Hite on Moving Philadelphia’s Schools Forward

School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite and Philadelphia magazine deputy editor Patrick Kerkstra.

School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite and Philadelphia magazine deputy editor Patrick Kerkstra.

He’s got the toughest job in Philadelphia, and more experience managing crises than FEMA. But Philadelphia schools superintendent William Hite didn’t move to the city two years ago to manage the district’s decline. When not extinguishing fires, Hite is working on a plan to drag urban education into the modern age. His goals are extraordinarily ambitious: 100 percent of kids reading at grade level by the 8th grade; 100 percent of students graduating, prepared for college or career.

But how? How to give schools autonomy, while ensuring they meet high standards? How to attract and retain the best teachers and principals amid labor strife and constrained resources? How can the district win the high-stakes match of three-dimensional chess with City Hall and Harrisburg? Above all, how can the district move forward? At ThinkFest, Hite will wrangle with these and other incisive questions posed by Philadelphia magazine’s Patrick Kerkstra.

Join us on November 14th at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business for a day of the city’s smartest people sharing their biggest ideas. Read all of our ThinkFest 2014 previews here, and watch the livestream, starting at 9 a.m. on Friday November 14th.

A California Ruling Is More Bad News For Philly Teachers

Philadelphia school district Superintendent William Hite, left, accompanied by Gov. Tom Corbett, speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia school district Superintendent William Hite, left, accompanied by Gov. Tom Corbett, speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Being a Philadelphia school district teacher is not an easy job. And this past week it just got harder. Not only because of yesterday’s decision by the School Reform Commission to terminate the district’s agreement with the teachers union and require teachers to now pay in for their health insurance. It’s also because of a ruling in California.

Per Breitbart last Friday:

In what will be a devastating blow to California public employee unions, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein ruled in the Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy of the City of Stockton that pensions managed by the California Public Employee Retirement System, known as CalPERS, can be cut in bankruptcy “like any other garden variety” unsecured debt. He rejected the unions’ argument that the world’s largest pension fund is an “arm of the state” and that public employee pensions are protected by federal and state laws.

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Anger Follows Cancellation of School Funding Vote

School District of Philadelphia

If you are involved in Philadelphia Public Schools — an administrator, a teacher, a parent, a city official trying to find funding — you are most likely angry this morning. Thursday’s decision by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to cancel a vote on a cigarette tax that would help fund city schools has left the community reeling.

School may not open on time. And activists are planning protests.

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Philly Schools Pass Placeholder Budget

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

William Hite, Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, in the Pennsylvania Capitol meeting with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and state legislators seeking funds for Philadelphia Schools during state budget talks Sunday, June 29, 2014, in Harrisburg, Pa. AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission is now playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the state.

Newsworks reports:

By unanimous vote, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission passed a budget Monday night that includes a $93 million placeholder for money that it hopes comes through if a political logjam in Harrisburg breaks.

Short of that, district leaders say they’d have to choose between laying off 1,300 employees, or shortening the school year.

The district can still avoid the bulk of these cuts if lawmakers in Harrisburg find a way to agree on a few key issues, chiefly, allowing Philadelphia to create a new $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes sold within city limits.

The Pennsylvania Senate did pass the cigarette bill on Monday but there’s apparently no current plans to bring it forward in the House.

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We Want to Believe: Can the City Sell Vacant Schools As Quickly As It Says?

Mayor Nutter and School Superintendent Hite announced a revised plan to get all those closed schools sold on the real estate market. The new, improved Philadelphia Schools Repurposing Initiative, which has approval from the School Reform Commission (SRC), will allow “highly marketable properties to be identified for expedited sale in order to generate much-needed funds for the School District.” (It’s a good idea to separate the wheat from the chaff; there are some schools that simply don’t have a viable commercial future, unfortunately, and others that have great potential.)

In a statement, Nutter said he and Hite are looking for ways to repurpose the schools “as quickly as possible.” Hite emphasized speed as well, “The School District of Philadelphia recognizes the importance of moving quickly to ensure appropriate reuse of the buildings that became vacant as a result of the Facilities Master Plan.”

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger, who will be involved in the project, was a bit more cautious: “This is a complicated, sometimes lengthy process as other school districts across America have experienced,” he said, perhaps so that in a few months he can point back to that very quote.

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School District Approves “Doomsday Budget”

Facing a more than $300 million budget deficit–without the guarantee of any new revenues from the city or the state–the School Reform Commission last night approved a so-called “doomsday budget” that would lop off all arts, sports, and music programs next year. Assistant principals, teacher’s aides, and other staff would be fired too, starting this summer. If no new money comes in, that is.

The upshot of the vote is that it may light a fire under the collectives rear ends of a Harrisburg legislature and City Council reluctant to approve Mayor Nutter’s $95 million liquor and cigarette tax proposal, revenues from which would go toward the school district. Whether teachers unions and state legislators can pony up the rest of the $300 million is also an open question. [6 ABC]

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