By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education writer
The Pittsburgh Public Schools board put a halt to an administrative proposal that would have closed schools and reassigned students over the next two years.
The board voted 7-1 to table a resolution that would have, in part, set a hearing to consider the closing of Woolslair PreK-5 at the end of this school year. The lone objection was cast by school director Wiliam Gallagher and board president Sylvia Wilson abstained.
The resolution also called for consideration of closing the Pittsburgh Montessori building, and Fulton PreK-5, Miller K-5 and the Manchester and Morrow school buildings at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
Full details of the administrative proposal were outlined in a Monday Pittsburgh Current story.
Gallagher said the lack of action on the proposal meant the board was “kicking the can down the road.”
District administrators presented the plan to the board during a three-hour business and finance committee meeting Monday. It was designed to “right-size” the district in light of enrollment losses in recent years and to help close a $39.4 million budget deficit that is predicted to cause the district to run out of money in 2022.
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet told the board it was in their hands as to when to resurrect the plan.
“We have a $39 million deficit we have to deal with in some fashion,” Hamlet said. “If we keep pushing it down the road it’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”
To meet regulations under the state School Code, the board would have had to start the plan of consideration into motion on Tuesday in order to close Woolslair by the end of this school year.
Even if the resolution is taken off the table at the board’s Feb. 27 legislative session, it would be too late to close any schools this year.
Several board members including Devon Taliaferro, Kevin Carter and Terry Kennedy, said they received numerous texts, emails and phone calls objecting to the proposal. Board members also said they thought the process was happening too fast, with the plan presented on Monday and a vote scheduled for Tuesday.
“This was rushing the process,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said she was especially concerned that Woolslair students had missed the deadline to sign up for magnet programs for next year and would have no option other than to accept a reassignment to Arsenal PreK-5 as proposed in the plan presented by the administration.
Some board members, including Pam Harbin, said they weren’t opposed to realignments in the district but that administrators needed to “go back to the drawing board.” Harbin and Taliaferro pointed out that the majority of students affected by the proposed closings and reassignments are black.
“I”m not even prepared to start a conversation on this plan,” Harbin said. “I don’t think it’s ready.”
Taliaferro said if a number of people were telling the board that the plan was not right, “maybe we should be doing this differently.” She cited the “pain and discomfort” that families already are enduring because of the pandemic and said she did not want to add to that.
Board members also said they would have preferred to have more than one option for changes in the district. “I don’t think this is the only option to eliminate our deficit,” said school director Kevin Carter.