Thursday, December 5, 2013

School district unveils potential cuts, reinforces milestones

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 4:48 PM

At the Pittsburgh Public School District’s 2013 State of the District presentation on Dec. 4, administrators unveiled possible solutions to the district’s impending $49 million budget deficit in 2016. The potential cuts total $44 million and include reductions at the central office level, school closings, and increased class sizes.

“By spending our resources smartly, we can achieve our mission and live within our means,” said Brian Smith, executive director of strategic initiatives.

According to Smith, Pittsburgh saw a nearly 30 percent decline in school-aged children between 2000 and 2010. The possible reductions would adjust the district to serve the needs of a smaller student body.

“The [system] was built and staffed for a much larger district,” Smith said.

The district’s options include: utilizing Port Authority transportation for all high school students; closing, consolidating, or reconfiguring 5-10 schools; slower textbook replacement; and fewer sports. The largest cut would be a 10-to-21-percent reduction of personnel and other expenses the central office level. Approved changes would be enacted in phases from 2014 to 2016.

As part of the presentation, the district launched the Whole Child, Whole Community initiative, which will address the budget deficit while seeking to improve student achievement.

“One of the issues with urban school districts is ... we never finish anything,” superintendent Linda Lane said. “It’s always a new initiative.”

Unlike other district initiatives, this one involves refocusing on milestones such as placing every 4-year-old in a Pre-K program, ensuring all third graders are reading at grade level, and having 100 percent of PPS students graduate from college or receive a workforce certification.

This new initiative also addresses the contentious relationship that’s been developing between district administrators, the school board, and some community groups on issues related to schools closings and teachers. The new plan welcomes community involvement in all stages of a student’s life, from Pre-K to graduation.

“You don’t always have to agree. I don’t think we’re always going to agree,” Lane said. “But the question is: Can we stand together for kids?”

The district laid out a nine-month plan for how the community will be engaged to provide input on the potential cuts and ways of reaching the district’s milestones.



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