On Nov. 22, the Pittsburgh Public School District Board of Directors approved a slew of plans aimed at reducing the district’s projected 2012 budget deficit of $21.7 million. Among them were the elimination of single-gendered classes at the Academy at Westinghouse and the sale of two school buildings.

SHARENE SHEALEY voted in favor of school changes.

Also approved in the package was the district’s realignment plan, which will see the closure of seven more schools and the elimination of 400 positions in the district. This includes the merger of Perry High School and Oliver High School, along with the merger of Brashear High School and Langley High School.

“I voted affirmatively for all parts. High schools need reorganized. High Schools are our weakest area and this essentially reorganized two high schools,” said Sharene Shealey, district 1 representative. “A couple of the schools that will be closed were very small so they couldn’t even support a full course load; they couldn’t afford a music teacher and an art teacher. So even though the merged schools will be bigger, they will better serve the kids.”

Under the district’s realignment plan, Pittsburgh Fort Pitt PreK-5, Pittsburgh Langley High School, Pittsburgh Murray K-8, Pittsburgh Northview PreK-8, Pittsburgh Oliver High School, Pittsburgh Schaeffer K-8 and Pittsburgh Stevens K-8 will be closed. However, Langley will house a new K-8 for children in the West End, and Oliver will continue to house the JROTC program along with the district’s special education program and offices.

Serving once again as the lone no vote on most of the proposals was District 8 School Board Representative Mark Brentley. However, while he voted against the total realignment plan, he did vote yes for the merger of Oliver and Perry.

“I voted no overall on the whole package, but I did support the merger of Oliver and Perry,” Brentley said. “Those kids at Oliver need to have access to all the opportunities kids at other schools do. I’m going to work hard to help the merger succeed.”

The one area that showed a lack of cohesiveness among the other board members was the approval of school building sales. The board voted 7-2 to sell the former Reizenstein Middle School and 5-4 to sell the former Ridge Avenue School, but rejected the bid on the former Schenley building.

“I tried to convince my colleagues that we were giving away Reizenstein. If we were to get close to the market value we would be able eliminate one-third of our deficit,” Brentley said. “You still have African-Americans on the board who aren’t looking at the impact on their own community and are just voting with the other members on the board. It is time to clearly move in a new direction.”

Reizenstein is being sold to real estate developer Walnut Capital and RCG Longview, developers associated with Bakery Square, for $5.4 million, nearly one-fourth of the value of the land as determined by the Allegheny County Office of Assessments. The Ridge Avenue building is being sold to Light of Life Missions for $1.1 million, despite other bids from Community College of Allegheny County and Propel Schools.

“We pay over $1 million a year for all of the empty buildings we’re maintaining. The less number of empty buildings we have, the lower that cost is,” Shealey said. “The money for the sales, under the school codes, we have to pay off the debt of the buildings, but for both, the price was over the number for the debt, so that money will come back to the district. That’s why Schenley was denied.”

After months of instability at the newly formed Academy at Westinghouse, the board approved the elimination of single-gendered classes at the school—all except for Brentley who was one of the Westinghouse reconfiguration’s original opponents. The decision 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.

“The ACLU wasn’t worried about Homewood until we put single gendered classes there. They were fine with letting those kids suffer for years and years and years,” Shealey said. “I actually heard that since the change in administration people are more confident with the school.”

The board will vote on the district’s 2012 budget at a meeting Dec. 7.

None of the school board members returned a request for comment put in through the School Board hotline. However, Brentley and Shealey did respond to calls to their cell phones.

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