The Nov. 7 Pittsburgh Public School District School Board meeting saw a number of issues brought to the table. Thrown into consideration was the sale of school buildings, preliminary 2012 budget, realignment plan, and both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, the elimination of single-gendered classes at the Academy at Westinghouse.
“I think we’ve reached a level now where the direction and the movement we’re moving in as a district has nothing to do with education. (Superintendant Linda Lane) threw together, selling of buildings, closing schools, and the budget all in one big swoop,” said District 8 School Board Representatives Mark Brentley. “I have zero confidence in Dr. Lane and her administration. I did ask for her resignation. I believe there’s a total disconnect here. She refuses to break the mold.”
The district’s recommendation to eliminate single-gender classes at Westinghouse came as a result of notification from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Women’s Law Project of their intent to file a complaint against the District challenging the single-gender programming at Westinghouse.
“We are recommending the elimination of single-gender classes at Westinghouse to avoid a costly and time consuming defense that will distract us from our goal to provide an excellent educational option for Pittsburgh families,” Lane said. “My goal was, and still is, to offer the students of Pittsburgh Westinghouse the best opportunities to succeed. Now my hope is that we as adults come together to do what’s best for the well-being of Westinghouse students.”
Meanwhile many in the community have alleged the school suffers from frequent fighting and general administrative disorganization that has seen two principals put on administrative leave.
“To put those kids through all this madness and not one person stood up to take responsibility for this is unbelievable. It was doomed for failure from the start,” Brentley said. “Look what you’ve put that entire community through, look at those wasted resources and now in the middle of the year, you’re going to make these changes.”
While the district deals with the aftermath of merging Westinghouse and Peabody high schools, they are recommending the closure of Oliver and Perry high schools to form a new school for North Side students in the Perry building, based on community suggestions and an evaluation of both facilities. Students participating in Oliver’s career and technical education programs will be bused to the building for those programs.
“In addition to the size or physical condition of a facility, we must look at what’s going on inside of the facility with our students. While we have seen incremental progress at both schools, Pittsburgh Oliver and Pittsburgh Perry are among the District’s lowest performing high schools,” Lane said. “The closure of both schools gives us the opportunity to take what’s working well at both, and allow the combined student population to work together to create a quality new comprehensive 9-12 school culture.”
“You’re closing Oliver; you’re closing Perry and then you’re going to reopen Perry as a new school,” Brentley said. “This district has never justified why the numbers are so low at Oliver. Perry made AYP last year. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing? So again they’re taking a school that’s made AYP and tampering with it.”
The district is also reviewing bids on seven former school buildings up for sale. Among them are the Reizenstein and Schenley buildings.
While the district has declined the singular bid on Schenley, which was for $2 million, below the district’s requested amount of $4 million, they have recommended the board accept the singular bid on Reizenstein. The bid, which comes from Walnut Capital and RCG Longview, developers associated with Bakery Square, was for $5.4 million, nearly one-fourth of the value of the land as determined by the Allegheny County Assessment Office the Building and Land.
“Now we’re going to be giving Reizenstein away. It’s insulting,” Brentley said. “You just told us you’re facing a $38 million deficit, but one of the treasures in the community, you’re going to be basically giving away.”
At the meeting, Lane presented plans for a 2012 preliminary budget that reduces spending and projected deficits without a tax increase for City residents. This proposal would include the elimination of 100 full-time positions and could result in layoffs for approximately 300 teachers.
“Our goal has always been to present the board a preliminary budget that does more than address the structural and financial challenges of the District. Our goal has been to present a plan that sustains the academic gains of our students, and one that complements our work to become a more competitive District and the educational choice of Pittsburgh families,” Lane said. “We have begun this work by reducing our current expenditures by approximately $20 million. This effort to reign in our current expenses will put us in a better place at year’s end, but our work to build a sustainable district requires a multi-year plan that drives efficiency in all areas of the district.”
Requests for comment from Board President Sherry Hazuda and the other board members were not returned.