The last thing the Pittsburgh Public Schools system needs is to further politicize the act of budgeting when enrollment and state funding are shrinking. Yet that's just what Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith did by formally asking the board to put a moratorium on school closures for the 2014-15 academic year.
What could be easier for a politician than to pander to the public, telling apprehensive parents, teachers and students exactly what they want to hear? That's an especially easy message to deliver if that politician doesn't have to worry about how to pay the bills.
That's the case for city council. Its members do not vote on the school district's budget, and they do not set school tax rates. That responsibility belongs to members of a different elected body, the Pittsburgh Board of Education.
Like city council, school board members are selected by Pittsburgh voters to set policies for the public schools run by the district and the tax rates that allow the district to meet its financial obligations. In recent years, the school board has been performing admirably, making very tough choices put before it by Superintendent Linda Lane and her predecessor, Mark Roosevelt.
More difficult choices lie ahead. Consultants recently issued a series of preliminary recommendations for keeping the district fiscally sound, including closing more schools. With a $46 million deficit projected by 2016, it would irresponsible for the board to take any reasonable options off the table.
To add to the mischief that started with a four-hour meeting Monday, Ms. Kail-Smith proposed a second, equally ill-advised resolution asking the board to lower the scores that teachers must meet in their evaluations. The state has mandated new methods for assessing teachers, and Pittsburgh is the only district that was allowed to develop its own system. The aim is to improve teacher performance, with the ultimate goal of doing the same thing for students.
As residents and taxpayers, the members of city council have the same rights to express their views as any other citizen. As a public body, though, they have no business sticking their noses into the school board's affairs.
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM