Pittsburgh mayor’s education task force assembles

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In a private session, the mayor's education task force met for the first time Tuesday, an unusual session combining City Hall and school district officials and others.

Reporters were permitted in when Preston Green, a University of Connecticut professor who was hired to mediate the sessions, opened the meeting, but were told to leave before the three-hour discussion began.

Afterward, Mr. Green characterized the discussion as “very passionate,” saying, “It’s very clear everyone does care about what happens to public schools here.”

While the school district last year went through a $2.4 million “envisioning” process, Mr. Green said his hope is this effort will “provide more data and more information for people to make decisions about the schools.”

Mayor Bill Peduto appointed the commission. City Council last fall approved a resolution asking the mayor to create a public schools task force “to evaluate and make recommendations regarding the public schools system.”

The mayor and City Council do not have legal authority over the school district; that belongs to the school board.

In addition to Mr. Green, who is an ex-officio member, 13 of the 23 other members were present when the meeting opened. Four others were said to have arrived late or participated by phone.

They included school board members Regina Holley, chair of the education committee, and Terry Kennedy, chair of the finance committee; school superintendent Linda Lane; teacher union President Nina Esposito-Visgitis; and two teachers, Kim Flurry from Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood and Derek Long from Perry High School on the North Side.

Also present at the start of the meeting were Curtiss Porter, chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer for the city; and two City Council members, Theresa Kail-Smith and R. Daniel Lavelle. According to those in the room, two other city council members, Natalia Rudiak and Deborah Gross, and city Controller Michael Lamb arrived late.

Other attendees were: Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children; Brian Brown, community and youth organizer for the Hill District Consensus Group; and two students, Hawa Mganga, who will be a senior at Brashear High School in the fall, and Don Crawford, a recent Obama 6-12 graduate who will attend Duquesne University.

Cosette Grant-Overton, who is the mayor's manager of educational policy and workforce development, was present and is handling administrative matters. She said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, joined by phone.

The theme was to be school finances — the district has forecast it will run out of money in 2017 — but the discussion was wide-ranging, attendees said.

Mr. Porter called it an example of the city coming together “to try to make Pittsburgh a better place to live.”

Ms. Lane said, “The idea that we can work together is pretty powerful.”

Ms. Kail-Smith, who sponsored the council legislation, called this the first time the district and city officials sat down together, saying, “These are the two governing bodies working together for the best interests of our students and our residents.”

Additional task force meetings are planned for June 24, July 9 and July 22. The contract with the mediator calls for spending up to $20,000, including travel and expenses.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published June 17, 2014 5:20 PM

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