Two board members deride city schools' proposed code of conduct

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The Pittsburgh school board is considering a code of conduct that supporters described as a move toward better government and critics called an effort to curb criticism of Superintendent Mark Roosevelt.

The code, introduced at the board's agenda review meeting yesterday and scheduled for a vote at Wednesday's legislative meeting, would require board members to "respect the confidentiality of privileged information" and refrain from making "misleading, confusing or deceptive statements."

It would require members to discuss constituent complaints with Mr. Roosevelt before taking them public; refrain from making disparaging remarks about one another; and avoid "unauthorized activities on the board's behalf."

It also would require members to "accept the will of the majority" once a decision has been made, even if they disagree. That language could dampen board member Mark Brentley Sr.'s continuing criticism of a 2006 round of school closings.

Member Thomas Sumpter said the code isn't directed at particular board members or prompted by specific incidents, but is part of a three-year journey to better management.

He noted that the board established a set of goals in 2006, adopted core beliefs last month and previously adopted a general code of conduct provided by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. He said the district's own code would help to focus board members on their top priority.

"It's all about the kids," he said.

Heather Arnet called the proposal an encouraging move and helpful to new board members like herself.

But Mr. Brentley and Randall Taylor, another critic of Mr. Roosevelt, said they believed the code was an attempt to muzzle them.

"I feel I have a responsibility to these children and to the taxpayers to ask questions about what the administration is doing and how they're doing it," he said. Mr. Taylor did not attend the meeting but later spoke about the code.

The proposal did not spell out penalties, but Mr. Sumpter said violators could be counseled in private or publicly censured.

Nor did the proposal spell out how the board would identify a misleading statement or unauthorized activity.

"Is there a truth squad now?" Mr. Brentley said.

Mr. Sumpter said he would determine the accuracy of a statement by saying, "Show me the facts. Show me the proof of what you're talking about."

Proposal of the code comes amid mounting frustration by Mr. Brentley and Mr. Taylor with the district's direction and other members' mounting frustration with the two dissenters.

At public meetings, Mr. Brentley routinely makes lengthy statements condemning the school closings and Mr. Roosevelt's academic initiatives, saying they've needlessly disrupted minority neighborhoods and made test cases of the children living there.

His complaints sometimes are thinly veiled accusations of racism that cause Mr. Roosevelt to bridle.

While less strident than Mr. Brentley, Mr. Taylor also has been critical of Mr. Roosevelt's initiatives and complained that some of his questions -- regarding teacher turnover at accelerated learning academies, for example -- have gone unanswered for months.

Other board members have grown weary of the pair's repeated criticism of decisions made months or years ago -- comments often blamed for making meetings last much longer than necessary. Mr. Taylor, who began the year with a vow to be tougher on Mr. Roosevelt, also angered colleagues in January by publicly questioning the termination of district facilities chief Omar Nabas.

Mr. Sumpter said the goal isn't to keep board members from speaking their minds but to ensure comments are offered in a constructive, civil manner.

Mr. Brentley said he fears the code is an attempt to "handcuff" him.

"It just takes away the checks and balances," he said.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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