Hopefuls line up for city school board
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Three of the four incumbents on the Pittsburgh Public Schools board face challengers in the Nov. 8 election at a time when the district is tackling serious financial problems.
The board is wrestling with how to reduce a $38.2 million deficit projected for 2012.
Running unopposed is incumbent Bill Isler, 64, of Squirrel Hill, chief executive officer of the Fred Rogers Co.
Here are some of the views of candidates in the contested races:
Dara Ware Allen, 38, who was appointed to the board in 2009, won the Republican nomination in the primary. The Highland Park resident has a doctorate from Penn State in workforce education and development and is executive director at YouthWorks Inc., where she heads an organization dedicated to youth employment.
She is the parent of a kindergartner at Pittsburgh Dilworth PreK-5 and a 3-year-old.
Ms. Allen said she has the experience of her years on the board and is prepared to bring the budget into line, saying, "It boils down to tough decisions. I've made some of those."
She said the district already is in the midst of a comprehensive approach to cut costs and efficiently deploy resources.
At the same time, she said, the board needs to continue working to ensure the district adequately prepares students.
Improving performance does not always have to do with money, she said. "It's about the right mix of elements, like effective teachers, leadership teachers feel inspired by. I think that's where we can learn more. I think we're taking steps in that direction."
She noted that she has not voted for a tax increase and would make "every effort" to hold the line. But she doesn't think it is "prudent" to totally rule one out without more information.
Democrat Regina Holley, 59, of Highland Park is a former city high school principal who holds a doctorate in curriculum and supervision from the University of Pittsburgh. Her two grown children graduated from Pittsburgh Public Schools.
As a consultant, she serves as a Title 1 evaluator for the state Department of Education. She coordinates the Future Teachers of America student chapters for Indiana University of Pennsylvania at three city high schools.
Ms. Holley said she thinks the district has enough money to do its job without a tax increase.
She wants to hold "everyone" accountable, "not only just for making the budget work appropriately but also making sure the budget is appropriate educationally."
She thinks some past school closing decisions were poor, such as those that involved closing a school and then using the same building for other students. She thinks some of the costs of closing or changing the groups in schools have not been fully considered, such as transportation and remodeling.
As to where she could cut the budget, she thinks more cuts in the administrative staff would be warranted.
"Right now, I think it's really top-heavy," she said.
District 2 includes all or part of Highland Park, Morningside, Lawrenceville, Polish Hill, Strip District, Stanton Heights and Bloomfield.
School board President Sherry Hazuda, 61, of Beechview, who won the Democratic nomination in the primary, is a contract specialist for BioTronics Inc., joined the board in 2007 and was elected president in December. She holds a master's of divinity from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is the mother of four grown children who attended Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Ms. Hazuda said it's important to continue the academic progress that enabled the district to meet the federal performance standards two of the last three years.
She said the board has been "very deliberate" in trimming costs and moving toward "sustainability."
The board started cutting at central office, then reduced capital spending and now is looking at savings within schools.
"As painful as the process is for all of us, I feel we are moving in the right direction," she said.
She is not in favor of raising taxes.
She is opposed by teacher Lisa Jones, 48, of Beechview, who has the Republican nomination. Ms. Jones, has been teaching chemistry at Pittsburgh Carrick High School for 16 years, was an assistant track coach for eight years and served on a district curriculum reform committee for three years.
Ms. Jones, who is not a parent, holds a master's of education from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's in engineering from West Virginia University.
Ms. Jones wants to see the deficit reduced without raising taxes or impacting the classroom.
She said the board has been "duplicitous" at cutting expenses, saying it has not trimmed enough from the anticipated deficit. She also said it has not fully considered renovation costs resulting from building consolidations.
She said most of the recent staff cuts were in lower-paid positions and that the number of administrators and non-teaching staff has grown too much in recent years.
Ms. Jones wants an independent audit of district finances.
She also favors cutting the administrative staff so they fit into one building and closing other administrative buildings.
District 6 includes all or part of Banksville, Beechview, East Carnegie, Oakwood, Ridgemont, Westwood, Brookline, Duquesne Heights, Mount Washington and the West End.
Incumbent Mark Brentley Sr., 54, of the North Side, a city laborer, defeated three challengers in the primary and earned a place on both the Republican and Democratic ballots.
However, he faces a new challenger on the fall ballot: independent candidate Rosemary Moriarty, 60, of the North Side, a retired city school principal.
Mr. Brentley, who is seeking his fourth term, is a graduate of Community College of Allegheny County. A parent of children attending city schools, Mr. Brentley is founder of the annual Take a Father to School Day, and he is continuing to try to establish a similar day to thank mothers, but so far he has not won board support. He often disagrees with the board majority.
Mr. Brentley is a critic of the spending of former Superintendent Mark Roosevelt as well as current efforts to carry out some of Mr. Roosevelt's plans.
"Over the last six years, there's just been out-of-control spending by the previous administration and now we're forced to make unbelievable cuts," he said.
He thinks some of the cuts have not been well thought out, including proposed school closings. He believes money could be saved if the district enlisted retired school employees to evaluate spending.
He said he would want to see such a report before taking a stand on any tax increase.
Ms. Moriarty holds a doctorate in education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was principal of the Miller African-Centered Academy in the Hill District when she retired in 2008. She is the parent of two grown children who attended Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Ms. Moriarty believes some budget cuts, such as preschool, may do more harm than good in the long run.
With the proposed school closings and consolidations, Ms. Moriarty said, "We really haven't received a clear-cut plan other than, well, because we have a lot of empty seats we need to condense the schools in various areas."
She noted that her school, Miller, went from a PreK-5 to a PreK-8 and then back to a PreK-5.
"That was a lot of money spent that really was an experiment," she said. "We lost student population around that."
To cut costs, she said more needs to be done to reduce higher-level positions, such as central office executives.
Ms. Moriarty does not favor raising taxes.
Overall, she said, "I just think we have to look at what we have and utilize it better."
District 8 includes all or part of Downtown, the Hill District, North Side, Bluff, Beltzhoover, Knoxville, Mount Washington, Allentown and South Side Flats.
Correction/Clarification: (Published October 25, 2011) Dara Ware Allen's name was incorrect in a story Monday previewing the District 2 school board race in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
First Published October 24, 2011 12:00 am