Pittsburgh schools seek advisers for planning

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If Pittsburgh Public Schools keeps doing what it's doing, officials expect it will run out of money in 2015.

But, after closing some schools, making classes bigger and laying off the most teachers in its history, the question is: What should it do now?

Superintendent Linda Lane has proposed that the board spend $2 million to $3 million -- using outside money -- for consultants for "envisioning a 21st century educational delivery model."

With fewer hands on deck in the district, Ms. Lane told the board at a recent business and finance committee meeting, "We frankly need the help."

The board may vote Wednesday if the measure is ready in time. There are two potential funders, one of which still needs to complete its own process.

Once that is done, the administration then can recommend a vendor and release a dollar figure. Officials interviewed four finalists from a field of eight.

Some board members have raised questions, both at a committee meeting and an agenda review meeting.

At the agenda review meeting Wednesday, board member Thomas Sumpter urged delaying action.

"There's not to me a complete understanding as to the charge of this work assignment and what the end product would be. So because it's not filled in with who nor amounts or anything, I have concern with bringing this forward at this time," he said.

Ms. Lane did not attend the agenda review meeting, but at the Dec. 4 business and finance committee meeting she said one reason help is needed to develop a new model is because the district is trying to solve financial and academic problems at the same time.

At that meeting, Ms. Lane identified three areas as needing immediate attention: low-performing schools, student attendance and expansion of school choice.

She said she is open to new ideas that serve students, including, but not limited to, blended learning models that combine face-to-face and online learning; alternative school management models; stronger branding of schools; revenue-producing models; and prioritizing the focus rather than trying to be all things.

At the business and finance committee meeting, board member Regina Holley questioned the expense, adding, "I honestly believe this is something that can be done by staff."

At that meeting, board member Jean Fink said she would think about the proposal but was concerned that some consultants may not be familiar with Pennsylvania law and may suggest ideas that aren't doable.

In the request for proposals issued in September, Ms. Lane wrote, "It will take creativity, financial, business and educational expertise to create this new model as well as to build the transition from our current model to the new one. This will require the support of many parties, and definitely will require both board and community support.

"The creation of this planning process is to think differently about educational delivery and what is possible -- and to then plan and act differently to achieve better outcomes for kids."

While those submitting proposals can suggest other timelines, the district proposed planning for 30 to 90 days, community engagement for four to nine months and implementation throughout 2013-15.

The project calls for acceleration of the district's work in five areas: finance; knowledge, attitudes and satisfaction; effectiveness; achievement/equity; and becoming a district of first choice.

education - neigh_city

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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