In 2007, only 20 percent of registered voters took part in the Pittsburgh Public School District school board election. In an effort to change these dismal numbers, A+ Schools, a independent, non-profit community organization focused on improving public education, is launching a campaign to increase voter education and turnout.
|SALA UDIN, board chair A+Schools. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
“We have done voter education in past elections, but never to this extent. This is a pretty extensive effort on our part,” said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools. “There’s a lot at stake right now. We have a new superintendant. We have new leadership. We care about our kids. We care about how our tax dollars are being invested.”
Through their campaign, A+ hopes to increase voter turnout by 26 percent, which would bring an additional 6,000 voters to the polls.
In May, school board representatives in Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8 are up for reelection. Voter turnout in the last election for these district seats ranged from 14 percent in District 8, which is made up of schools in neighborhoods such as the North Side, to 26 percent in District 2 where the board representative is in charge of schools in Highland Park and Lawrenceville, among others.
The board oversees a more than $500 million budget and 50 percent of that budget comes from city and county taxes. Although many Pittsburgh residents don’t have school-aged children, their tax dollars are being used to fund the city’s schools and they can vote for a school board representative to manage those funds.
“I think 13 percent of households have kids in the district. (However,) the health of our school district impacts the health of our city,” Harris said. “Although people have a greater interest, there is a lot of information people don’t have.”
Many parents with children in the school district have also been in the dark about their right to vote for their representative. After recently discovering she had the power to vote for a school board representative, mother Felicia Davis said she not only plans to vote, but because her children attend school in a neighborhood outside of her district, she will also be advocating for awareness in that district.
“I’ve never voted. I’m going to advocate for the district my kids go to school in,” Davis said. “I never knew I could vote for my representative. They don’t have to advertise or promote themselves. There’s no need for them to take their message to the whole district when they could probably just get a whole neighborhood on their side.”
A+ plans to provide voter registration information to residents in the PPS district and challenge them to sign pledge cards promising to vote in the May primary. The organization will also be holding a candidate forum and producing a voter guide with information on how the candidates plan to implement good governance principles.
“There’s no single issue that will improve the conditions for poor people—for Black people in the city than education,” said Sala Udin, board chair, A+ Schools. “Jobs might be more immediate, but education is fundamental.”
The school board representatives running in the upcoming election May 17 are District 2 Representative Dara Ware-Allen, District 4 Representative William Isler, District 6 Representative Sherry Hazuda and District 8 Representative Mark Brentley.