Pittsburgh Public Schools presents first draft of 'envisioning' process for future

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In a $2.4 million envisioning process in Pittsburgh Public Schools, the first draft calls for unnamed elementary school closings, fewer magnet programs and the creation of an international-themed elementary school in the North/Central region.

The draft, which focused on the "school portfolio," was presented to an advisory group meeting Thursday as part of the "Envisioning Educational Excellence: A Plan for All of Pittsburgh's Children."

Using grant money, the district is paying for two consultants, FSG and Bellwether Education Partners, to help find ways to improve academic quality while tackling a budget problem so serious the district expects to run out of money in 2016 unless it changes course.

As she heard some community members comment on the report, superintendent Linda Lane said there is "clearly more work to do."

The advisory group will meet once more before formal recommendations are made in October. The final decision will be up to the school board.

There was no dollar figure attached to the report, but Ms. Lane said that the draft plan does not have enough savings to totally solve the budget problem.

District officials forecast a $46.3 million budget deficit by 2016.

Ms. Lane declined to say how many or which schools might be closed. The draft doesn't call for closing any secondary schools.

The draft calls for eliminating partial high school magnets. That doesn't mean the programs -- such as pre-engineering at Pittsburgh Allderdice, ROTC at Pittsburgh Perry or computer science at Pittsburgh Brashear -- would necessarily disappear but they no longer would be magnets.

The first seats would go to students in the school's assigned feeder pattern.

Students citywide could choose any secondary school outside their feeder pattern if seats are available.

Three full-time secondary magnets would remain: international studies at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12, creative and performing arts at CAPA 6-12 and Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy 6-12.

On the elementary level, the draft suggests a "streamlined magnet system with fewer elementary options" and expanded access to popular programs, such as Pittsburgh Montessori PreK-8.

Elementary students would have an option to attend any school in their region if space is available.

The district now offers 28 magnet programs which offer themed studies, some schoolwide and some partial programs in a school.

Open to students throughout the city, enrollment in oversubscribed magnet programs now is determined by a lottery which gives extra weight for various factors, such as eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch and living within the geographic region where the school is located. Siblings have preference.

The draft also includes several new schools, although none would be in a new building.

Proposals include an international-themed elementary school in the North/Central region, an arts-focused feeder school in the North/Central region; a language-immersion elementary school and expanded alternative programming at Pittsburgh Online Academy.

The draft also suggested two early college high school programs by 2015-16 in which students could earn up to two years of college credit while in high school.

It also recommended streamlining and using career and technology education offerings better.

It was also noted the district is continuing to explore whether it is feasible to move the central offices from its Oakland headquarters.

Advisory group members called for more clarity, transparency and accountability.

They questioned whether some of the changes would lead to more flight from the district.

They called for equity, encouraging the district to see that all schools are of high quality.

After the meeting, Ms. Lane said the hope of the plan "would be that parents would believe they had an option in their feeder school they feel good about" as well as some additional choices.

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


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