Closings part of Pittsburgh Public Schools cost-saving proposal

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Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Mark Brentley Sr. had a direct question for Superintendent Linda Lane: Are you planning to close Manchester K-8 next year?

Ms. Lane said she doesn't have an answer to that question -- or any others about which schools she might recommend closing as part of the district's efforts to cut costs and improve education.

She plans to present to the board next month a wide-ranging proposal drawn from the envisioning process for which foundations have paid $2.4 million for consultants to assist the district.

"Even we have not totally agreed internally on what we think is the best way to go with it," Ms. Lane told the board at a committee meeting Wednesday.

She said the plan will include options and that school closures would be part of a plan but not the only aspect, saying the administration is looking at "big things and small things."

She said, "We're trying to put together something that makes sense as a whole."

Any school closings would have to be approved by the board after a lengthy process.

In August, an advisory group heard a first draft that called for elementary school closings, fewer magnet programs and the creation of an international-themed elementary school in the North/Central region.

Ms. Lane's presentation to the board didn't reiterate that draft but noted four ways to increase access to desired school options: Develop new school models and improve neighborhood schools; create K-5 pathways to popular 6-12 magnets; strengthen early college programs; and expand open enrollment.

Board members encouraged putting everything on the table, from reducing paper usage at central office to reducing sports.

But the hottest button issue in any cost-savings plan is school closings. Mr. Brentley said he's heard rumors about Manchester, which had an enrollment of 251 students last year.

Board member Regina Holley said closing the Manchester school would be like past school closings in Hazelwood, which left the community without any district schools. She said there already are two charter schools near the Manchester school.

"Where do you think your children are going to go? We have lost a whole neighborhood of children," she said.

Ms. Lane said schools operate more efficiently when they have enough students to have two or three classes of each grade level. For a K-5, that would be 300 students.

Among just the 22 K-5 schools in the district, 10 have enrollments below 300.

However, enrollment will be just one factor considered. The list of factors to consider includes the impact of past closures on neighborhoods; race; and socioeconomic demographics, among other things.

Several board members said there needs to be a closer study of what the ultimate impact was of past school closings.

If the district continues with the status quo, it expects to run out of money in 2016.

If there had not been school closings, Ms. Lane said the district would have run out of money by now. The financial issue is so serious that it would take a 40 percent tax increase to resolve it on taxes alone, Ms. Lane said. Under state law, the district can raise taxes less than 2 percent in calendar 2014.

education - breaking

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955, First Published October 9, 2013 6:21 PM


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