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.
Adjuncts, theologians and members of the United Steelworkers rallied this morning at Duquesne University and delivered petitions with around 20,000 signatures in an attempt to continue to pressure the university to recognize an adjunct union.
"The Catholic Church is very clear about workers’ rights," said Father Jack O'Malley, chaplain of the Allegheny County Labor Council. "Workers have a right to join a union. Workers have a right to good healthcare. Workers have right to a living wage.”
The university originally appeared to be receptive to the adjuncts' unionization efforts, which began in 2011. It accepted the jurisdiction of the NLRB in a May 2012 election agreement, but withdrew a few weeks later, claiming a religious freedom exemption as a Catholic institution.
Last night, the Pittsburgh Public School District board of directors voted by a vote of 6-3 to approve a three year contract with Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income schools. But the contract might not be a done deal.
After attempting to table a vote on the TFA contract, school board member Mark Brentley, who was against the contract, voted in favor of it. As a result, Brentley has a chance to defeat the measure by bringing it up for a vote again when a new crop of board members is sworn in less than two weeks from now.
“Let’s table it; let’s bring it up at another date when the community’s involved,” said Brentley prior to the vote. “It’s controversial and it’s divisive.”
School solicitor Ira Weiss said he doesn't anticipate the district moving forward with the TFA contract because of the controversy.
"Given the discussion at the table, given the statements of several board members, good judgement would dictate that we wait until December," Weiss said.
The district’s proposal to contract with TFA has been met with some resistance from the community. At a public hearing on Nov. 25 and a rally preceding the vote, a group of teachers, parents and community organizers asked the district to postpone deliberation on the contract until four new board members take office in December.
“It really bothers me that they’re taking away the democratic process by trying to push these things through tonight,” said Debra Srogi, a PPS parent, an hour before the board’s vote.
Long time school board members Theresa Colaizzi and Jean Fink took offense to those who referred to them as “lame ducks” and said the outgoing board members shouldn’t be voting on controversial issues at the last meeting of their term.
“I walked into this with a table of controversial issues and I don’t see one this last one should be any different,” said Fink who has served on the board for 37 consecutive years.
However, even the outgoing board members disagreed on whether or not the district should contract with TFA.
“There’s this thing out there that Teach for America does not bring in qualified teachers,” Colaizzi said. “Teach for America does bring in teachers with certifications.”
Fink sided with those in opposition who accused TFA teachers of being unqualified.
“The district has been saying for years that every student needs a highly qualified teacher and I agree,” said Ellen Smith, a retired PPS teacher who criticized the minimal classroom experience TFA teachers receive. “So the notion that somebody can come into a classroom with five weeks of training—I look back at what I didn’t know those first two years. I feel like these Teach For America teachers might be very well educated, very bright, but they’re not well prepared.”
The contract would allow the district to hire up to 30 TFA teachers next fall.
The media storm has quieted since the death of Mary Margaret Vojtko, a Duquesne University adjunct whose story became a symbol of the financial struggles of part-time faculty across the country. But efforts to rally public support to cajole Duquense into recognizing the adjuncts' union have spilled into an online petition that has received over 17,000 signatures since Sept. 20.
"When it hit 15,000 I was really surprised,” says Josh Zelesnick, a former Duquesne adjunct who is active in the unionization effort and wrote the petition.
“We’re trying to get in communication with the administration right now," Zelesnick says. "If for some reason that fails, we hope to use [the petition] to help motivate them to sit down and talk with us.”
The petition is addressed to Duquesne president Charles J. Dougherty, and asks that "you stop refusing to recognize your part-time faculty’s democratically elected union, and bargain a fair contract in good faith."
Duquesne has argued it should be exempt from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board on religious grounds. The university did not respond to requests for comment.
On Monday, Pittsburgh City Council will hear from members of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network calling for a moratorium on school closings in the Pittsburgh Public School District. Council will also hear from other city residents unhappy with the district’s decision to close nearly 30 schools in the past eight years.
“What PIIN is looking for is a moratorium on school closings because we know how damaging closing a school is,” said Irene Habermann, chair of PIIN’s education task force. “What we want to do is get an understanding of the impact. There’s a lot of outside factors we want to look into before we decide to close these schools. Let’s find alternatives.”
If approved, the non-binding resolution being considered by council would request the district to place a moratorium on school closings for the 2014-2015 school year. While the district has not announced specific plans to close any schools in the future, closing elementary schools was included in a list of cost-saving recommendations to help the district stave off a $46.3 million budget deficit projected for 2016.
“Statistics show how damaging it is to close a school. We’ve looked at it nationwide, but we haven’t done that in Pittsburgh. We have neighborhoods that don’t have schools anymore,” Habermann said.
The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. in council chambers.
A Sto-Rox school board member featured in an article in this week's City Paper about the elimination of the school's baseball and softball programs has resigned.
"As the state education-funding crisis became worse, the fury inside Sto-Rox intensified to grab a steady or growing piece from within a shrinking pool of resources," wrote 20-year board member Edward Maritz in a nearly 2,000-word letter to Frank Dalmas, the school's acting superintendent. "The unrelenting effort by a consistent few has always been to protect what various factions exist inside the district rather than joining forces together to gain more state resources for everyone.
"...My thinking is that if I get out of the way, my hope is the light will finally shine on the real problems of Sto-Rox so that a united school community can finally champion the financial and educational needs of the children for whom we are responsible."
Neither Maritz or Dalmas have returned calls for comment, but the letter was posted by community activist Ken Hohman on Facebook, he says, at Maritz's request. The Sto-Rox Website is currently advertising the vacancy and Maritz's name has been removed from the district's website.
The district is facing a dire financial crisis, and to make up for a more than $2 million budget shortfall, the board voted to use about $1.2 million in reserve funding and cut nearly $1 million in programs, calling for teacher furloughs and the elimination of the baseball and softball programs. Supporters of those programs have said that the district only saves $25,000 by eliminating both programs. Former coach Bill Palermo advocated a cut across all sports programs, leaving booster organizations to come up with the rest of the money.
But in his letter, Maritz says the negative comment have been the result of the "self-serving belligerence of the vocal minority." He urged the board members he's left behind to stand up to the group and say "no more."
"Familiar people are again protecting their fiefdoms under the guise of protecting students," Maritz wrote. "The ship is literally sinking and yet prominent and vocal members of the school community are demanding a higher deck chair on the doomed vessel.
"Such tactics are a true disservice to the children entrusted to our care. It is easy for such people to express their dissatisfaction to school board members who have to DEAL with the worsening problems of the district brought about by state underfunding of schools."
Maritz's full letter can be found after the jump.
Here's some insight to the education portion of the budget from The Education Policy and Leadership Center, which held a conference call on the matter this morning, led by EPLC president Ronald Cowell.
Education watchdog group A+ Schools is looking for 200 volunteers to interview Pittsburgh Public Schools principals in February.
The interviews are part of A+'s School Works initiative.
Volunteers will conduct confidential interviews with principals at all 50 K-12 public schools to collect data on the inner workings of their schools. Once the data is analyzed, it will be presented at a series of public meetings to discuss a course of action.
Anyone interested in becoming a School Works volunteer should contact A+ Schools by phone at 412-697-1298, via e-mail at email@example.com or visit this website. To be eligible, volunteers must attend a 1.5-hour training session, which will be offered beginning Jan. 16.
The season for ankle-deep grey slush doesn’t have to prevent your children from doing some nature-based learning. The Phipps Conservatory is offering a variety of Science Education programming to teach kids about conservation and ecology in an immersive environment.
Tonight, Phipps hold one of its monthly “Evening Ed-Ventures,” 6:30-9:30 p.m. The workshop teaches kids aged 6-9 elements of science and health by exploring the Conservatory and creating healthy snacks, at $25 for non-members or $20 for members per session. While kids attend the program, parents can dine on the tasty fare at Café Phipps for $29.99 for two, including a glass of wine and assorted small plates.
A four-week “Little Sprouts Camp” runs 10:30 a.m.-noon on Mon., Jan. 7. Every Monday this month in “My First Garden,” kids ages 2 and 3 can learn the basics of gardening through songs, stories and a pot plant to take home. It's $48 for members, $60 for non-members and an adult must accompany campers.
The “Celebrate! Series” of holiday workshops feature a New Year’s session on Sat., Jan. 12. themed around renewal. Children can craft T-shirts, planters and healthy snacks from recycled materials. Sessions are 10 a.m.-noon for ages 4-5 and 1-3 p.m. for ages 6-9. $12 for members or $15 for non-members.
To register call 412-441-4442 ext. 3925 or visit www.phipps.conservatory.org.
Persad Center, GLSEN and PFLAG will co-host a Safe Schools summit this month to target bullying of LGBT kids in Pittsburgh schools.
The event will be held from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Wed., Jan. 16, at the Lexus Club at PNC Park. It will feature national speakers from the Trevor Project, GLSEN and PFLAG, as well as researchers from Duquesne University who have been studying bullying. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is also scheduled to speak.
In a press release, organizers cite recent research from GLSEN showing that three out of four students hear derogatory remarks related to sexual orientation — often at school, and that LGBT students are three to four times more likely to attempt suicide. In a 2011 survey by GLSEN, 81.9% of LGBT students reported being harassed for their sexual orientation.
I believe there are other alternative ways to put qualified teachers in to the classroom…
Just curious,what do you think you will lose joining the union? I am a proud…
Recent poll also shows Hanger as most likely Dem candidate to beat Corbett in a…