William R. Hite Jr., superintendent of schools here in one of the nation’s poorest cities, is known as a man who prefers collaboration to confrontation, but he has spent the academic year taking no prisoners. He laid off almost 4,000 workers to close a $304 million budget gap and threatened to keep school doors locked until officials found stopgap money to ensure what he considered a basic level of security for students. He says he was just warming up.
Since joining the district in October 2012 from his previous post as superintendent in Prince George’s County, Md., Dr. Hite has battled what he called a perfect storm of cuts, in which state reductions coincided with the ending of federal stimulus dollars.
He had to close 24 school buildings, forcing the relocation of thousands of students to unfamiliar schools that often lacked basic personnel like guidance counselors and secretaries. Only about a quarter of the laid-off staff members have been rehired.