In one of his last acts as a Pittsburgh Public School director, Randall Taylor warned an audience of East End parents, teachers and interested residents to be wary of another round of school closings.
“In 1997, I came in during a storm of reconfiguration, and I’m leaving the same way,” he said. “And we still can’t seem to get it right.”
|STAY VIGILANT— Outgoing school director Randall Taylor tells parents not to think the latest recommendation to close schools is just “a tool” or a talking point.
Taylor’s remarks came during a Nov. 23 town hall meeting he convened with fellow School Director Mark Brentley Sr. and a panel that included veteran education activist Wanda Henderson, Annette Werner, Parents United for Responsible Education Reform and NAACP education chair Marilyn Barnett to address a consultant’s recommendation earlier this month to close 15 schools including two high schools.
“Take this plan seriously. Don’t think it’s just a talking point, a planning tool,” he said. “The 2006 plan was Mr. Roosevelt’s plan and it was an incompetent plan that wasted millions of dollars. We can’t allow him to do another one.”
Roosevelt has repeatedly said the plan saved money and moved students to better schools. Some of those in attendance at the meeting disagreed. Vivian Super, who moved here in 2003 from South Carolina, said the changes have been very disruptive to her and her son.
“Who is Mr. Roosevelt to close all these schools? Who turned our kids into commodities?” she said. “If this keeps up, my son will flunk out. This education system is on the fast track to hell.”
Henderson told the crowd of about 50 to file repeated claims with the state Human Relations Commission if Roosevelt and the school board fail to address their concerns.
“Keep doing that and Mr. Roosevelt won’t be able to make a move until he answers those charges,” she said.
Though both Barnett and Taylor agreed school closings are needed to save the district money and reduce unused space, both said it has to be done equitably; something they also said hasn’t been the case with earlier closings.
“Every time it’s the schools on the North Side, the East End, the West End that are closed and the kids moved,” said Taylor. “Schools in the South, they are untouched.”
Barnett recalled that the recruiting process for teachers when she was the principal of Westinghouse High School during the 2004 school closings was anything but equitable.
“I interviewed this one teacher for a position the day the eligibility sheet came out, and offered him the job,” she said. “And he told me he really liked the offer but he’d already accepted an offer from the Carrick principal. I said, ‘When did he call?’ and he said, ‘Two weeks ago.’ Carrick got the list two weeks before I did.”
Parent Rita Gilliam said staffing was a concern of hers because the least experienced and qualified personnel seem to end up in the poorest schools.
“How do you brand something ‘Excellence For All’ when you can go from school to school and not see excellence?” she said.
In an effort to keep community attention focused on the school closing issue, Brentley suggested enlisting the clergy by having churches appoint observers to monitor every school board meeting and report to their congregations through “fact sheets” in the church bulletins.
Taylor, who will step down at the end of the month, reminded everyone there will be at least three more town halls in the North, West and South parts of the city. He also thanked everyone for supporting him over the years.
“Thanks for the years of letting me do something real for kids,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
(Send comments to cmorrow@ newpittsburghcourier.com.)