Wilkinsburg woes

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As a 20-year Wilkinsburg resident, I've watched the debate on the Wilkinsburg schools with vested interest ("Some Say Struggling Wilkinsburg Schools 'Too Far Gone,' " June 10). Periodically, someone running for school board or local office assures me that we are "almost around the corner on this issue" or "we see the light at the end of the tunnel." The light isn't the end of the tunnel; it's another train.

On May 30, Sen. Jim Ferlo convened a discussion meeting on the schools. Mr. Ferlo pointed out that the education costs more than $18,000 per year per child, and the school system was, according to the state, "failing." He was careful not to assign blame about why the schools are so expensive and why the testing results are so low, why the dropout rate in the high school is well above the state average, and so on. Undoubtedly Wilkinsburg teachers contribute heroically to education in Wilkinsburg and it's an uphill battle for quality education. A resident spoke up and pointed out that it should be about what's good for the children.

I agree with her: In the best of possible worlds, it would be entirely about the children. Yet Wilkinsburg is not "Candide's" best of possible worlds: 2,506 of 6,945 taxable properties are delinquent on their taxes; according to city-data.com, 34 percent of the families have annual incomes under $20,000 and another 18 percent have incomes of $20,000 to $30,000 (median per capita income is $19,000); the median value of a detached house is less than $70,000. Under these circumstances, a school system that costs $18K per student per year is not economically sustainable, regardless of its disputed quality.

Our millage rate is the state maximum: On my $120,000 house (borough median for detached houses in 2009: $123,710), I'm paying around $4,300 in school tax. I am one of 34 percent of Wilkinsburgers who make less than $20K a year. Wilkinsburg properties are being abandoned as delinquent tax owners walk away from them.

It's time to give Wilkinsburg kids a good service and consolidate our schools with Pittsburgh or Penn Hills (or both).

R.A. KITTNER
Wilkinsburg


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