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.
The Mary Roberts Rinehard Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Inc., this week released Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales , a collection of stories by regional authors.
The stories range from police procedurals and suspensers to cozies and noirs.
The authors, all from the region, include Kathleen George, Martha Reed, Tamara Girardi, Liz Milliron, Gina Sestak, Lee Ann Dawson, Gail Oare, Annette Dashofy, Jennifer Little-Fleck, Kristine Coblitz, Paula A. Smith and Susan Thibadeau.
Mystery Lovers Bookshop is hosting a public book-launch starting at 5 p.m. on Sun., Dec. 8. The authors will attend for a signing.
Mystery Lovers is located at 514 Allegheny River Blvd., in Oakmont.
Sisters in Crime is an international organization that promotes the advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.
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.
Three more performances for a provocatively titled play — plus some thoughts about this small company's place on the local theater scene. Hats off in Program Notes.
The big news for the 20th annual iteration of this community New Year’s Eve festival Downtown is: ice labyrinth and Charles Bradley.
The ice labyrinth is a natural extension of the popular “fire-and-ice” exhibits at Katz Plaza; along with the other 150-some events at 50-some venues at First Night, people can’t seem to get enough of live ice-sculpting. Now, as announced this morning at a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust press event by First Night director Darcy Kucenic, they’ll get to wander through a 40-foot-square maze built from ice-block walls 5 feet high, all lit by LEDs. The labyrinth, by Ice Creations’ Rich Rubin, will sit right next to the Fire & Ice Plaza.
The musical headliner is old-school soul singer Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. Bradley, who’s getting spins on WYEP, had been performing for years, most recently as a James Brown impersonator named Black Velvet, when he was “discovered” by a member of the Daptones. Now he’s got a couple albums under his belt, and performs live to growing acclaim.
The rest of the Dec. 31 festival is the familiar mix of family-friendly (and alcohol-free) stuff, including live music, dance, comedy, visual art and hands-on activities. Plus that big community parade down Penn Avenue, and (duh) midnight fireworks.
Highlights of shows by local artists include a performance by Attack Theatre, which actually had its public debut at the very first First Night (in 1994) and has appeared in 11 more since. Also look for new work by Bricolage Productions (an “immersive urban adventure”) and Miniature Curiosa (a video-enabled puppet-theater spectacle titled It Was the Coldest Winter Ever).
But really, there’s too much more to name — the vast majority of it indoors — and it’s all accessible for the price of an $8 First Night button ($10 at the door); children ages 5 and under are admitted free. A handful of events require free seating vouchers, available in advance.
For a complete schedule for Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, and how to get buttons, see www.TrustArts.org/FirstNightPGH.
Sam Shepard's classic play about battling brothers and our mythology of the West has eight more performances. Go West in Program Notes.
Nine local artists have been chosen to represent Pittsburgh at the nationals of the RAW network of showcases for up-and-coming artists.
The Nov. 22 local semifinals show was a bustling affair, with 450 attendees filling the dozens of nooks, crannies and side rooms of sprawling Strip District nightclub Cavo. People lined the floors, and art lined the walls, behind tables staffed largely by the artists themselves.
And because RAW spotlights performers, fashion designers and hair and makeup artists as well as visual art, some of the art was people, or on them — musicians and dancers on the Cavo stage, and fantastically made-up and coiffed models, some of whom roamed the floor.
Here are Friday’s winners, as chosen by judges and announced by local RAW organizer Leigh Yock:
Filmmaker of the Year: Jake Mulliken
Visual Artist of the Year: Ashley J. Hickey
Photographer of the Year: Daniel K. Haas
Fashion Designer of the Year: Knewwd
Musician of the Year: Ricardo Iamuuri
Hair Stylist of the Year: Jameson Leigh
Make Up Artist of the Year: Maggy Pawlesh
Performance Artist of the Year: PLAY Parlour
Accessories Artist of the Year: Melissa Ciccocioppo
The People’s Choice Award (chosen by attendee ballot) went to hair stylist Stephanie Truchan.
Here’s more about RAW, as related by Kate Magoc in the Nov. 20 CP.
Portfolios of the semi-final winners from each of 50-plus RAW cities head on to judges in Los Angeles, who pick national finalists and final winners. Those winners will be announced Dec. 16 and honored Jan. 19 at a ceremony in L.A.
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.
Hill District residents are, once again, battling with Pittsburgh Penguins management and developers of the former Civic Arena site -- this time over the amount of affordable housing proposed for the lower Hill District development.
The community wants 30 percent of the residential development to be affordable housing, but at a Nov. 21 community meeting, the plan unveiled by developer McCormack Baron Salazar only included 20 percent.
The plan could be taken to the City Planning Commission as early as next week: The meeting, organized by the Penguins, was meant to show the community what that proposal will look like.
“If this is going to be successful we’re going to need to work with the community,” said Travis Williams, chief operating officer for the Penguins.
But the presentation came to a halt when residents complained the presentation was taking too long and not addressing their concerns.
“It seems like you’re slow-walking us through this presentation, but you’re taking your plan to the planning commission next week,” said Carl Redwood from the Hill District Consensus Group.
Know a teen or two who write their own songs and could use some exposure? A new program from Reimagine Media — an educational wing of WYEP — might be the place for them.
Reimagination 2014 is a project in which WYEP will match young musicians with professional producers so they can record their music and end up with a track on a compilation CD that the program will release. Participants will also have opportunities to perform live at events including the Three Rivers Arts Festival as well.
The kids have to write their own stuff, of course, and have to be age 13-19. Details here.
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