Pittsburgh: Some Pittsburgh Public Colleges staff can not reside exterior of town. Is it unfair or affordable?

2021-02-24

Pittsburgh Public Schools has a 1981 rule that employees must live within city limits. The district claims that the rule, which is enforced and followed by the school board, exists because staff are more embedded in the community and connected with families so that they can better understand students.

However, the requirement only applies to some employees – especially those who do not require a professional certificate to work. This includes paraprofessionals, secretarial workers, food service workers, custodians, and other non-professional district employees. District Attorney Ira Weiss estimates that around 2,500 employees live under the mandate.

People with a professional certificate as part of their job can choose where to live. This includes more than 2,500 teachers, counselors, social workers, school principals and the superintendent.

The requirement or Board Policy 308 has already been challenged several times – most recently in 2015 and 2017 by the union, which represents both groups of workers. In the past few months the debate has flared up again.

Opponents say the rule is discriminatory and impractical because it only applies to some employees as the cost of living in the city rises and wages stagnate. Policy waivers are only considered in a few cases; B. marrying someone who has to live outside the city because of their job.

Weiss said the policy is non-discriminatory as it applies to every employee except teachers and other employees with the required professional certifications. “So we don’t choose a specific group of employees.”

He also said that the school board is unlikely to overturn the policy because they agree that it is “a solid policy. It is beneficial to the district and the district’s families.”

The school district, Weiss said, is large and diverse, with significant numbers of students learning English, and because of this, it is “really important” that teachers live locally and are “involved in the community.”

“We believe the school district is big enough and the housing options are so diverse that the benefits of having such a workforce outweigh the negatives,” he said.

Weiss said the district would want the same for teachers if state law allows the district to do so. Residency requirements for teachers were lifted under a major state legislature act in 2001, largely due to Philadelphia’s difficulties in attracting teachers.

Paraprofessional Pittsburgh pioneer Debra Harris sees it differently. She wrote to the school board in January:

“… I try to live on a paraprofessional salary [in the city]It becomes impossible, especially in a single-parent home, “Harris said. Many paraprofessionals (or paras), she wrote,” have been forced to take on a second job to cover even the most basic necessities for their own children. “

Harris said she would reach retirement age in a few years. “… [A]And like many other retired paraprofessional employees, I began to think about what my cost of living and budget would be in retirement. The item that is greatest for us parasites is health care. “

Camie Hubbard, a juvenile parenting attorney at Pittsburgh Perry High School, testified to the school board, saying that “less-paid urban workers forced to live in town experience financial hardship” because the cost of living in town is higher are than surrounding areas in the city.

“How do you expect us Paras to prepare for our future if we can barely make ends meet?”

Reports of increased water bills and rental costs in recent years suggest rising cost of living in the city.

However, Weiss said that, in his view, the cost of living “is no higher in the city than anywhere else in western Pennsylvania in general. Second, wages in the school district are very similar to other school districts.”

Billy Hileman is a longtime teacher and union representative who works with staff to end the requirements. Hileman said the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers suggested several times during the collective bargaining process that the district remove residency requirements for technical, clerical and paraprofessional workers.

But the district has “no appetite,” he said.

“You definitely say ‘no’, but you don’t have the courage, the employer does not have the courage to make a statement directly to its employees: ‘We are not going to move away and here is why.’ They have never said that before, “said Hileman.

Hileman said he agreed with workers who say the policy is discriminatory: “They are being discriminated against because of the position they hold with this employer.”

“Should the employer have the authority to get involved in a person’s personal affairs in such a way that he sleeps at night, whether he can live in the house he inherited from his parents?” he said. “It’s just not fair and it makes people angry when they run into it.”

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are the only school districts in the state that can impose a residency requirement. In Pittsburgh, teachers had to live within the city limits until lawmakers lifted the requirement in 2001. Similar residency requirements exist in several other public school districts in the city, including throughout New Jersey and the city of Chicago, where the problem is also highly debated. Several other districts that once had teacher residency requirements have since eliminated them, including Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.

While research has linked the presence of educators in their school community to higher levels of student achievement, a 2017 University of Rochester dissertation study on politics and student-teacher relationships found that there was no “significant relationship between residence of teachers in “or outside of the district and the strength of the relationships they have with their students.” “

Limited empirical data was provided in the study on whether residency requirements improve or change student-teacher relationships, or affect students’ academic performance.

The union plans to continue its struggle so these workers can choose where to live. PPS, on the other hand, has shown little interest in changing its policy.

TyLisa C. Johnson covers training for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

This article was produced by PublicSource.org, a nonprofit news organization for the Pittsburgh area. PublicSource tells stories for a better Pittsburgh. Sign up for their free e-mail newsletter at publicsource.org/newsletters.

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