Pittsburgh mayors have no legal authority over the city school district, but Bill Peduto is right to have a strong interest in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Education quality, after all, is necessary to sustain a thriving American city.
So it’s good that Pittsburgh’s new 25-member task force on public education wasted no time in holding its first meeting on Tuesday. Our concern is that most of its members are employed by or have links to the school district and city government, to the neglect of creative thinkers and innovators outside the city’s school and political establishments.
Unfortunately, Mr. Peduto had to fill the slots to represent the constituencies mandated by council’s legislation creating the task force. The group is charged with submitting by Sept. 1 recommendations on school closings and finances.
Eleven of the 25 members are part of the city schools, including the superintendent and teachers union president. Six are officials in city government, including four council members and the controller. Even some of those representing other Pittsburgh organizations have children in the city’s schools.
It’s one thing for task force members to have a personal stake in the schools, but it’s hard to expect a corps of insiders to bring fresh thinking to the table. Although independent groups such as A+ Schools, Allies for Children, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a local Baptist church have representatives on the task force, no seat is held by an education authority from one of Pittsburgh’s universities, foundations or successful charter schools.
Let’s hope that task force mediator Preston Green, a professor of urban education at the University of Connecticut, and task force overseer Cosette Grant-Overton, a former professor at the University of Cincinnati and expert on urban schools, will be able to lead the members in a way that improves the district. And let’s hope the mayor can expand the task force with more outside voices.
Maintaining a quality school system is the key not only to the future of young Pittsburghers but also to the prosperity of the city.