Arnet quits city school board

Focusing energy on nonprofit work

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Citing responsibilities at work, Pittsburgh school board member Heather Arnet is resigning about a year-and-a-half into her four-year term.

Ms. Arnet, a Highland Park resident and executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania, announced her resignation yesterday in a letter to school board President Theresa Colaizzi. Her resignation takes effect Tuesday.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will appoint a new board member for District 2, which takes in various East End neighborhoods. The appointee will serve until Ms. Arnet's term expires Dec. 5, 2011.

"It has been a great privilege to serve my community in this capacity," Ms. Arnet said in the letter. She said she steps down with a "deep admiration" for district employees and called her work with fellow board members and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt gratifying.

Ms. Arnet's letter said the recession "has had a devastating impact on our local nonprofit community and the constituents we serve" at the Women and Girls Foundation. She said she must step down from the board to serve the foundation as best she can.

In an interview conducted by e-mail, Ms. Arnet said the foundation's revenue from grants, normally about $350,000 for a year, is down precipitously.

"This year we would be lucky if we could generate even $150,000 in grants income. To maintain our current work in the community, and our own grantmaking to other nonprofit organizations, we would therefore need to double individual donor investment in the Women and Girls Foundation from $200,000 annually to over $400,000 ... We are committed as an organization to not only survive 2009 ourselves, but to continue and sustain our own grantmaking activities in the community (on any given year we make $50K-$250K in grants to other nonprofits serving women and girls to support equality initiatives)," she said.

Ms. Arnet's house is for sale, but she said an impending move played no role in her decision to leave the school board.

Her departure won't cause any power shifts. She has been part of a large block -- usually seven of nine members -- supporting Mr. Roosevelt.

Ms. Arnet said she is proud of the district's work to promote the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program, overhaul academics and implement a new system for evaluating principals' performance.

"I absolutely believe that the district is moving in the right direction, academically and financially," she said in an e-mail. "When we look at school districts in California laying off teachers and special-education providers due to budget cuts, and then look at the Pittsburgh Public Schools' opening new exciting theme-based 6-12 schools, increasing public investment in our public schools and steadfastly investing in special education and early-education programs in our schools, we as a region can only feel pride, hope, and excitement at the possibilities."

Ms. Arnet succeeded Patrick Dowd as District 2 board member in 2007, after he decided to run for City Council. She was supported by the same community group that helped put Dr. Dowd on the board but later angered some supporters by voting with a slim majority to close Pittsburgh Schenley High School in Oakland, perhaps the most controversial decision during her tenure.

She brought her advocacy for the rights of young women -- she once led a successful "girlcott" of Abercrombie & Fitch over a questionable T-shirt line -- to the board.

She pushed the board to abandon abstinence-only sex education in favor of a "comprehensive" curriculum with more information about contraception and homosexuality. The board approved the change in February.

In December, Ms. Arnet voted with other board members for an audit of the district's compliance with Title IX, the federal law designed to increase athletic opportunities for girls. The audit is not complete.

In a statement, Ms. Colaizzi called Ms. Arnet a "strong voice for transparency and equity in board governance and policy-making." There was no word on a possible successor, but Ms. Colaizzi said Mr. Ravenstahl "understands the significant impact that effective school board leaders have in improving public education."

Joe Smydo can be reached at or 412-263-1548.


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