By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education writer
On Tuesday afternoon, City Council members Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle introduced a resolution declaring a “state of educational emergency in Pittsburgh” and calling for the city and the school district to work together and for students to be returned to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
On Tuesday evening, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board adopted a statement saying it welcomed the city council effort “as a resounding message of unity announcing that we are not alone in this fight to return our students to our buildings” as well as an opportunity to hold discussions with city council.
In fact, one of the items school officials want to discuss is the return of $20 million in annual earned income tax revenue that is levied by the school district but was taken by the city during its time of financial distress.
Pittsburgh Public Schools is currently facing a $39.4 million budget deficit that could bankrupt the district by 2022.
“The city’s (financial distress) status has ended and absorbing the $20 million should end as well. The District can and will apply for those funds to address the many needs of the students and families of our District,” according to the statement drafted by the school board executive committee and adopted by the full board. You can read the full statement here.
The school district and city operate separately and city officials have no control over the school district.
The city council resolution outlined ideas to help students catch up on what they have missed during remote learning and called for more supports for Black and other minority students who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burgess has been a critic of the district’s decision to educate students in a remote setting this year as COVID-19 cases have spiked. The district delayed the return to classes for the third time last week, opting to wait until April 6 to give teachers a chance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The board statement said that decision was done with the health and safety of the district’s more than 21,000 students and 4,000 teachers in mind. “No one wants students back in school more than we do, however, we must pay attention to the COVID-19 numbers and the genuine concerns raised by our teachers and staff of returning before the vaccine is available to them,” the statement said.
It said the board stands “firmly behind our Superintendent and his administration” as they work to achieve equity and “put an end to the impact of racial inequities across our system.”
The statement said the board welcomes the opportunity “for City Council to share in our discussions about our black and brown students,” but it pointed out that no elected city official has contacted the district “to meet on the concerns expressed in the proposed resolution.”
“The board and administration stand ready to meet with council to discuss matters of mutual concern. We would gladly begin these discussions and welcome our state legislators and state senators, who also have an interest in this topic and should be at the table,” the statement said.