Peduto appoints task force to recommend changes in Pittsburgh Public Schools

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Friday announced the formation of a 21-member task force to study the beleaguered Pittsburgh Public Schools and develop recommendations to overhaul the district, which is projected to go broke in 2016.

The task force comes as the result of a city council resolution passed last fall. In October, Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith sponsored a resolution to call for a moratorium on school closings, which raised ire among school board members who felt the city was overstepping its bounds. Mr. Peduto, then a councilman, helped to craft the new resolution that included the creation of the task force.

The task force is part of the mayor's effort to bridge the gap between the city and the school district, whose officials have not met regularly for years. Mr. Peduto has taken a keen interest in public education, hiring a former Penn State University chancellor, Curtiss Porter, to serve as a liaison with the district and to work on public education issues citywide.

Mr. Peduto also has suggested that he might give funding to the district, which lost out on millions of dollars of earned income tax revenue when state legislators increased the share of the money given to the city as it battled its own financial woes.

Ms. Kail-Smith and three other council members were appointed to the task force, along with city Controller Michael Lamb and Mr. Porter.

The task force also will include two board of education members, school superintendent Linda Lane and Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. It also includes the parent of a schoolchild and representatives from several community groups and organizations related to education.

Many represent groups that are at odds on a variety of issues the task force is charged with addressing, including school closings, teacher evaluations and the district's worsening financial condition. The task force will meet regularly and produce a report by Sept. 1.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Mr. Peduto, said the task force's work could inform if and how the city allocates money to the district, a possibility that he said was "on the table."

"If this group is able to come together and put their swords down ... in this process that he's built, one of the things the city would consider is being a part of helping to solve the financial crisis at Pittsburgh Public Schools," he said.

The mayor has said in the past that he would consider making the funding conditional on the district following recommendations that came out of the task force's report.

This is not the first time a sitting mayor has attempted to intervene on matters related to public education. In 2003, Mayor Tom Murphy commissioned a 144-page report critical of the district, but its recommendations were, for the most part, not implemented.

Terry Kennedy is one of two board of education members appointed to the task force. She said if this task force's recommendations are to be taken seriously, she needs the authority to engage her colleagues at the board of education.

"You need five votes to do anything," she said. "What I hope we can do [is] that we can come up with recommendations that we can sell to the school board as a whole."

Ms. Kail-Smith applauded the mayor for the formation of the task force and said she hopes it addresses, among other things, the structure of the board of education, whose nine members are elected by district. She said mayoral appointments to the board should be considered.

The task force also will include three Pittsburgh Public Schools students who have yet to be selected. Those interested can apply at pittsburghpa.gov/mayor/education-task-force and also should submit a resume and one-page letter as to why they want to serve on the task force. Application materials are due by March 7.


Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee. First Published February 21, 2014 11:47 AM

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