In lieu of a number of possible school reconfigurations and reforms in the Pittsburgh Public School District, decisions could hinge on the largest competition for education funding the nation has ever seen.
Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion United States Department of Education program designed to spur reforms in state and local district K-12 education. Now in its second phase, states are competing for funds up to $700 million.
“Race to the Top is one of the more open-ended kinds of funding. Race to the Top can cover a lot of this. More of the finalists will win than will lose,” said PPS Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. “Worst case, we would have to cut back but we don’t anticipate that. There are about six buckets we would have to find empty.”
The list of reforms currently on the table includes the creation of teachers academies at Pittsburgh Brashear High School and Pittsburgh King K-8; the reconfiguration of Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School into a single-gender academy; the implementation of teacher effectiveness reforms at Pittsburgh Perry and Pittsburgh Langley high schools and the installation of an early college model at Pittsburgh Oliver High School.
The cost of these reforms over the span of four years is projected at close to $26 million. Through Race to the Top, which will be announced in September, the district could receive up to $15.3 million.
“We actually are competing with the other districts in Pennsylvania,” said Assistant superintendent Derrick Lopez. “We had to prove we have the capacity to do this work.”
Other funding could come from the Teacher Incentive Fund, also to be announced in September or the School Improvement Grant, which the district will be notified about later this month. These funds could total up to approximately $70 million.
The transformations at Westinghouse are projected to cost almost $6 million over the next four years with an additional $1 million for capital costs such as the conversion of art labs into media centers. These costs also include hiring a program liaison to work with parent and community involvement.
“We’ve been engaged with many of the community groups and law enforcement,” Lopez said. “We realized there had to be a significant paradigm shift with the students and the teachers.”
Reforms for both Westinghouse and Oliver include the installment of extended school days and an extended school year for Oliver.
“At the moment we don’t have the money for extended school days at Oliver and Westinghouse,” said Roosevelt. “Kids aren’t in school long enough and everyone knows it, but it’s going to cost money.”
The proposal for Oliver involves a multi-faceted approach addressing career and technical education as well as the reclamation of dropouts. The projected operating costs are approximately $4.5 million over four years with an additional $25 million for capital costs such as the relocation of Connelley CTE.
“It’s a difficult concept for people to understand that you would take one of your lowest performing buildings and turn it into a career academy,” Roosevelt said. “A lot of districts have made attempts to woo dropouts. This is our first attempt. It’s the right thing to do.”
District 1 school board representative Sharene Shealey will moderate a community forum to address the proposed reconfigurations in the East End. The meeting will be held Aug. 10 at Westinghouse from 6-7:30 p.m.