Pittsburgh city government and public school system leaders agree that an education crisis is emerging due to the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism.
What to do about it – and by whom – remains controversial.
The city councilor Ricky Burgess spoke for the first time in the city on January 27th about the “educational emergency”.
Burgess’ remarks sparked a reaction from the board of directors of Pittsburgh Public Schools, who agreed that there was an emergency. However, board members said they had already taken steps to address the issues.
The school board and city council are separate entities with no mutual oversight.
Burgess is calling for a series of public meetings that will be attended by school principals, parents and others.
During a council committee meeting on Wednesday, the council delayed a vote on the declaration of the state of emergency and instead agreed to schedule meetings.
Several Burgess colleagues in council and school district officials questioned Burgess’ tactics when he first brought up the subject at an otherwise routine council meeting.
School board member Kevin Carter accused Burgess of greatness.
Burgess said he believed in “an open exchange of opinions and ideas” and that is why he raised the issue two weeks ago. Last week, he and Councilor R. Daniel Lavelle introduced legislation officially declaring the emergency.
It was further observed by the members of the school board. In a public response to the city council, the board said that if the city was serious about improving education, it would end the longstanding practice of collecting a larger portion of wage taxes – about $ 20 million a year – that it uses could be in schools.
In 2005, as the city neared bankruptcy, the formula for dividing the 3% wage tax paid by residents was changed.
Originally 2% went to schools and 1% to the city. To address the city’s financial problems, the formula was changed to 1.75% for schools and 1.25% for the city. It hasn’t changed, although the city’s financial situation has improved.
Otherwise, school district officials said they agreed there was an emergency and they worked hard to resolve it.
“A cooperative approach is welcomed. How can we make changes that correct the wrongs of the past and lead us to innovation and modernization and a vision for a future? “Wrote the board in the statement. “We have a plan … we don’t have a wand.”
During the council meeting on Wednesday, Burgess and Lavelle explained how they came to the decision to introduce the legislation after speaking with people involved in the school system and reviewing data showing that virtual learning is poorly served to students become.
However, other councilors disagreed, saying the school district should have been involved before the matter was raised at a public meeting.
“I am concerned about the way this has been presented,” said Councilor Bruce Kraus. It “got people to retreat to their camps and start defensive”.
The council agreed to postpone a vote on the legislation until public and private meetings can be held with school district, charter school and nonprofit executives to define the scope of the problem and find a means to address it.
“We are ready to build relationships that ultimately serve the good of our students,” said Kraus.
Other councilors agreed, saying the city must stand ready to go out of their way to provide assistance that may need money to be spent.
“Let’s go through and do some things,” Councilor Corey O’Connor said.
One solution could be to offer city recreation centers and pay to have them staffed for extended periods of time to help the students, O’Connor said.
What he doesn’t want the city to set up another task force or committee to write a report on the problem with no results.
“We all have to own this because our city is worse if we don’t,” Lavelle said.
Tom Davidson is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
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