Pittsburgh school board reverses on Teach for America contract

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New members of the Pittsburgh school board flexed their muscles at a Wednesday night meeting, voting to rescind a contract with Teach for America and to keep doors open at Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5 on the Bloomfield-Lawrenceville border.

Both the contract and the go-ahead to plan for closing Woolslair had been approved last month in votes by outgoing board members.

The new board’s reversal on the Teach for America contract means 30 teachers from the national program will not be coming to fill positions in some of the hardest-to-staff schools in the district.

The motion to rescind the contract passed with affirmative votes from Mark Brentley Sr., Cynthia Falls, Regina Holley, Carolyn Klug, Sylvia Wilson and Thomas Sumpter.

Sherry Hazuda and William Isler voted against rescinding the contract, and Terry Kennedy abstained, saying that while she’s against Teach for America, she understands the district’s needs and staffing struggles.

“I don’t see Teach for America as a program to help us. I think we have to change our own minds and how we see our district as a whole and not just individual schools,” Ms. Wilson said, referring to the inability to fill positions internally at hard-to-staff schools.

The old board previously approved the Teach for America contract 6-3.

District chief human resources officer Jody Spolar said that at the eight hardest-to-staff schools, just 8 percent of open positions are filled by intra-transfers.

Board members said they’re concerned resignations from teachers in those schools stem from a lack of support for the educators.

“People will come to hard-to-staff buildings if they know they will have support there,” Ms. Holley said.

Superintendent Linda Lane, a proponent of bringing Teach for America to the district, said, “We did not consider this our overall strategy to bring teachers to Pittsburgh.”

This is the first time a school board has reversed a decision to bring the program into its district, said Danielle Montoya, regional communications director for Teach for America.

“We are disappointed with the outcome of tonight’s vote, but respect the decision of the members,” she said in an email. “We plan to continue conversations with a broad range of Pittsburgh community members including PPS’s new school board members and area charter schools about local needs and the role Teach For America could play in the city’s broader strategies to expand educational opportunities for students growing up in poverty.”

A vote halting the process to close Woolslair passed 8-1, with Mr. Isler opposed. The old board had voted 6-3 to begin the process.

Built in 1897, Woolslair is one of the district’s oldest schools. This school year it has 110 students, the district’s smallest enrollment. Officials estimated closing Woolslair could save $650,000 to $950,000 annually.

Ms. Klug made the motion, with a second from Ms. Falls, on both actions.

The board also voted 8-1 to form an ad hoc committee to brainstorm the possibility of acquiring the August Wilson Center, with Ms. Lane and other staff providing technical support for the committee. It will report back to the board with recommendations. Ms. Hazuda voted against the motion.

In other business, the board approved the 2014 budget of $529.1 million. Implications of the budget for taxpayers remain unclear, as the property tax rate was not set.


First Published December 18, 2013 10:02 PM

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