About three dozen residents last night implored City Council to jump into the controversy over Pittsburgh Schenley High School, saying the city will be poorer if the school board votes next week to close the building.
Council has no legal authority over the Pittsburgh Public Schools. But speakers at a special public hearing said council wields indirect influence, and they demanded that council members use it.
"It is your obligation to represent the students of the city when the school board is not. I urge you to do so. Be prepared to do so until Mark Roosevelt leaves the city of Pittsburgh," Homewood resident Kenneth Miller said.
Mr. Miller was referring to school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, who has asked the school board to close Schenley because of maintenance problems.
Mr. Roosevelt, who did not attend last night's proceeding, also was a target of criticism at a school board hearing Monday.
Some school supporters complained that Mr. Roosevelt, who came to Pittsburgh from Massachusetts about three years ago, has not shown an appreciation for Pittsburgh's traditions and achievements.
"The superintendent will go. His cronies will go. But we will be here," Stanton Heights resident Lois Cain warned council.
Council President Doug Shields said the hearing was held because more than 25 residents signed a petition requesting it.
"This is a vital issue," Mr. Shields said. He said council "certainly is in a position to influence" the debate and "will take the matter up."
Time is of the essence. Mr. Roosevelt wants the school board to vote on Schenley's closing next Wednesday.
Mr. Shields said he could imagine the outrage if Mr. Roosevelt instead had proposed closing the popular Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, traditionally the district's highest performing high school.
"I don't see any distinction between the two high schools," he said, after speakers hailed Schenley's academic accomplishments, student camaraderie, and role as a flagship school.
Councilwoman Tonya Payne said Schenley's closing would be "flat-out wrong" but didn't know what council could do, except pass a nonbinding resolution urging the school board to study the Schenley matter further.
"There are a lot of stupid decisions made, I think," Ms. Payne said of government. "Usually, they hurt adults. But these are kids."
Councilman William Peduto was absent last night, but last week he proposed selling the Reizenstein school property in Shadyside, saying proceeds from the sale and taxes from new development there could help finance a Schenley overhaul. Mr. Roosevelt dismissed the plan as unworkable.
None of Mr. Roosevelt's aides spoke last night. But school board member Mark Brentley Sr., a critic of Mr. Roosevelt, criticized the superintendent for offering plans "that are not well thought out."
Mr. Roosevelt says the district cannot afford $76.2 million in repairs to 92-year-old Schenley. But school supporters contend the project could be done for less than $40 million.
Supporters also claimed:
• It would be unwise to close Schenley until Mr. Roosevelt unveils a plan for overhauling all district high schools and determines which buildings will be needed.
• Replacing Schenley with new schools would require renovations to buildings that could equal what it would cost to repair Schenley.
• Because of its success, architectural charm and location in vibrant Oakland, Schenley should be the cornerstone of a high school renewal.
Joe Smydo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1548.