City schools warned off August Wilson Center

While there is not yet a formal proposal for the Pittsburgh Public Schools to take over the distressed August Wilson Center for African-American Culture, state auditor general Eugene DePasquale has a message for the district:

Don't even think about it.

"I would rather much more be proactive on this and have too much caution," Mr. DePasquale said after issuing a news release Monday. "Even the idea of thinking about assuming that [debt] to me is something that would be fiscally irresponsible to the district."

Pittsburgh Public Schools expect to run out of money in 2016 if the district doesn't change course. Mr. DePasquale recently announced he is starting a wide-ranging audit of the district.

The school board recently set up an ad hoc committee, which had a brainstorming session on Jan. 31.

At the meeting, school board member Mark Brentley Sr., who heads the committee, said he hoped the district could have a proposal to purchase the center in 45 days.

The center, which opened Downtown in 2009, carries about $9.5 million to $10 million in total debt.

"In no way, shape or form is the school district in any position to assume that type of debt," Mr. DePasquale said.

In response, Mr. Brentley said, "I still believe that it is a possibility for the district to acquire it, to provide of the services or some additions to the Pittsburgh Public Schools."

"I think the district has always had debt. I think we will continue to work out some creative way we can present to the [bankruptcy] judge for consideration," he said. "I'm sure no one is arguing that this would not be considered a good investment."

While he said the center's financial situation was "unfortunate," he said, "we are the best next rightful owner of this facility."

He believes the building could serve both Pittsburgh students and those in other districts.

Mr. DePasquale said if there were "some sort of wealthy advocate" who wanted to make all payments on behalf of the school district, "that's a different discussion."

Mr. DePasquale said he was trying to be proactive.

"I have seen ideas like this that are bad ideas get outside the train station and then you can't stop them," he said.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. First Published February 10, 2014 5:21 PM

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