District 1 race for Pittsburgh school board pits newcomers

Two candidates run in first election with new boundaries primary 2013

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With Pittsburgh Public Schools' board president, Sharene Shealey of North Point Breeze, deciding against seeking re-election, District 1 is certain to have a new school board member next year.

Two candidates are running in the May 21 primary: Sylvia C. Wilson, 62, of Lincoln-Larimer, who cross-filed on both parties, and Lucille Prater-Holliday, 56, of Homewood, who is running on the Democratic ballot.

This is the first election for the new boundaries that were drawn as a result of population shifts after the 2010 census. District 1 includes all or parts of Larimer; Homewood North, South and West; East Hills; North Point Breeze; and Point Breeze.

Ms. Wilson recently retired as the longtime assistant to the president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. She previously taught at Spring Hill, Miller and Manchester elementary schools. She served as the union liaison to the district's human resources department.

PG graphic: School boundaries
(Click image for larger version)

Ms Wilson held various elected union positions, including serving on the executive board and as secretary. She is a PreK-12 program and policy council member for the American Federation of Teachers.

Her community board memberships include the Allegheny County Labor Council, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and the Riverset Credit Union.

Ms. Prater-Holliday is a community organizer for Pittsburgh United, an organization aimed at advancing social and economic justice.

She is the former president of Acorn Pittsburgh and the recent past president of Action United Pennsylvania, a social justice organization. She is a board member of Freedom Unlimited in the Hill District, a former board member of the Homewood-Brushton YMCA and former chairwoman of the Wilkinsburg Civil Service Commission.

Wilkinsburg council voted to remove her from the commission in 2009 because of a lack of a Wilkinsburg address, but Ms. Prater-Holliday said that was "political posturing" and she already had submitted her resignation to the commission because she had moved into the city.

Ms. Wilson, a graduate of the former Peabody High School, has a bachelor's degree in social relations from Carnegie Mellon University and a master's degree in counselor education from the University of Pittsburgh.

Ms. Prater-Holliday, a graduate of then-Westinghouse High School, has an associate degree in social work from Community College of Allegheny County and a bachelor's degree in human resources management from Geneva College.

Both candidates have grown children who attended Peabody.

Ms. Wilson views her candidacy as "a natural progression of all of the things I've been doing over the last 40 years working for the kids in the schools."

She sees her experience -- including working on a number of districtwide committees and her involvement in teacher contract negotiations -- as a plus for the district.

"I won't have to start learning how the system works," she said.

Ms. Prater-Holliday said she is concerned about a high dropout rate among African-American males and low academic achievement.

"I'm running for school board so I can have a say in the policy and decision making in our district," she said.

She said she was involved in the schools when her children attended and her background in the social services would be an asset.

Both are complimentary about superintendent Linda Lane, whom the board last month decided to reappoint through June 30, 2016.

"With all the changes we're dealing with right now in the school district -- issues with funding and the fact we have five incumbents and only one chose to run again -- this isn't the time you would need another gigantic change at the top of the school district," Ms. Wilson said.

As for how the superintendent is doing, Ms. Wilson said, "I think she's smart. I think she gets it. ... She tries to look at reality and do the right things."

Ms. Prater-Holliday said, "I'll just have to accept what the school board has done. I'm sure they made that decision with the best interests of our students and families and communities."

As to how Ms. Lane is doing, Ms. Prater-Holliday said, "I think she's been doing a good job. I think that she has the desire and the interest to improve our school district."

Both candidates cited academic and financial problems in the district. Officials have forecast the district will run out of money in 2016 unless it changes course.

It is uncertain whether either would raise taxes, although neither is categorically opposed to it.

"Sometimes that's a decision you have to make," Ms. Wilson said. "Nobody wants to see taxes raised, but they don't want to lose out on services, either."

Ms. Prater-Holliday said, "That may be unavoidable. No one wants to see their taxes increase."

In terms of improving academic achievement, Ms. Wilson said results are best when teachers and administrators work as a team.

"It's important that the leadership in every building strive to work with the folks in their building. I think that's one of the biggest issues we've always had."

She said "best practices" need to be consistently adhered to.

Ms. Prater-Holliday would like to see "community schools" that provide social services and make better connections with parents and the community.

She also would like to see elected "neighborhood councils" that would keep tabs on the schools and disseminate information in each neighborhood.

Ms. Wilson owes back taxes on two properties, according to tax records.

At her home, she owes the county $1,431.69 for taxes in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, according to the county. She does not owe city or school district taxes on her residence.

On a row house in Garfield, Ms. Wilson owes the school district $8,001.43, the city $6,021.22 and the county $3,956.56.

Ms. Wilson said the Garfield property has been vandalized and is uninhabitable, and she is looking into whether it can be torn down.

She was unaware of any taxes currently owed on her residence.

She said she has been helping various family members in need and in crisis and has been "ignoring myself."

"I've never said I was better than anybody else, and at best I understand what other people go through just because of what I've been through," she said.

Ms. Prater-Holliday said she is a tenant and doesn't own property.

education - neigh_city

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


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