Wilkinsburg budget cuts teachers, expands courses

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The Wilkinsburg school board is considering a $28 million 2014-15 budget that calls for a staff reduction of at least nine teachers but will offer more courses for students by merging the faculties of the middle and high schools.

The number of furloughs could increase if the teachers union accepts a tentative contract approved unanimously by the board Friday.

The current high school schedule offers no math beyond pre-calculus, no upper level science, English or foreign language courses, no advanced placement or computer courses and just a handful of electives.

With a reorganized middle and high school faculty and curriculum, the district hopes to offer honors courses in math, science and English next year and some AP classes in 2015-16, said substitute superintendent Donna Micheaux.

Also planned for the new curriculum is a career and technology seminar and courses in robotics, animatronics, keyboarding and PowerPoint.

The budget holds $200,000 for curriculum materials for the new courses, said business manager Phil Martell.

The current teachers contract has language that limits the number of furloughs or job eliminations to nine positions. But if the union approves the new pact, the district will be able to eliminate more positions, Mr. Martell said, though he did not specify a target number.

He said some job reductions may come through retirements.

Solicitor Matt Hoffman said the proposed contract the board approved, which runs from September 2012 through August 2015, was negotiated with union leadership. Mr. Hoffman did not know when the union membership was scheduled to vote on the proposal but was hopeful it would before the board adopts its final budget in late June.

He said he could not release any contract details unless the pact is ratified by the teachers. Union officials could not be reached for comment.

The $28 million proposed spending plan is balanced and includes a $280,000 reserve fund. In the spring of 2013, the district had to borrow $3 million to meet its expenses that year -- a move that prompted its placement on the state's financial watch list.

Mr. Martell said the district made its first $1 million payment on the loan in August and has budgeted for its second payment this August.

"I think we are turning a corner," he said.

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1590.

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