Monday, March 16, 2009

Transparency watch

At today's public hearing PURE Reform launched Transparency Watch. Due to a technical problem with the PURE website this testimony is posted below rather than on the announcements page.

Transparency Watch

Today PURE Reform launches Transparency Watch, a new feature we will use to identify important pieces of information about the Pittsburgh public schools which to our knowledge have not yet been provided to the public. We hope the administration and the Board will view this as a tool for ensuring that relevant information reaches the public.
Here are this month’s topics:

Grade 6 – 12 Format- We have not yet seen evidence supporting the benefits of this format.

CEP- As of a month ago we were told that no evaluation was available on the performance of this very expensive school ($5M per year). Also, updated enrollment information does not seem to be posted on the PPS website. NOTE: We learned after the hearing that information on an evaluation should now be available on the PPS website.

University Prep- Details of the arrangement between PPS and the University of Pittsburgh do not seem to have been provided yet.

Stimulus package money- It does not appear that information has been released as to what the district is doing to obtain school construction funds and what is being done to make projects shovel ready. There were also promises made last summer to seek funding opportunities for the Schenley building and so information on this issue should be provided.

Cost of renovating Schenley- Information should be provided on whether the $40M plan devised by the Schenley Building Task Force is acceptable and whether this is the figure that should be used when considering the cost to make Schenley available.

Asbestos plaster schools - Clear information is needed on when schools will be considered unsafe due to asbestos plaster issues. For example, over the past three months alone at Vann elementary there was an emergency cleanup of fallen ceiling plaster from the auditorium (copy of invoice attached) as well as removal of loose asbestos plaster in the library and a classroom. Over 200 Pittsburgh residents (additional signatures submitted today) have requested but not received a comparison of the condition of the plaster at schools such as Vann to the plaster at the Schenley building.

Incentive programs -Information should be provided on which schools have incentive programs such as rewards for attendance at extra standardized test preparation, the amount being spent on these programs, and the evidence the district considered both for and against this type of program.

Magnet lottery procedures- Information should be provided as to who is developing these procedures, what type of parent and teacher input has been obtained, and what are the specific goals that require a lottery different from one chance per applicant?

Board committee meeting minutes- These should be posted on the PPS website.

We as taxpayers pay over $500 million a year to fund the Pittsburgh public school district and so it would be difficult to imagine that we should not have a right to this type of information, preferably in advance of the time relevant decisions are made.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION omitted due to time constraints: A step in the right direction is the fact that meetings of the recently established facilities committee are open for observation by the public.


Anonymous said...

The Schenley ship has sailed...give it up. I can see being all about reform, here are bigger and better plans for that least according to the powers that be. Have you ever heard of the phrase, "You can't fight city hall"? Sometimes, you can't!

Questioner said...

The Schenley issue is what alerted many to issues with transparency. If problems are identified and not resolved, how can there be confidence in the district going forward?

Also, the recently named facilities consultant has been asked specifically to look at the Schenley building, and Schenley is one of the few buildings (maybe the only building) that can house the IB program and so leave Peabody for students in the Bloomfield, Garfield and Lincoln-Lemington neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:58. Who are those powers that be? Do you know of something that no one else does? Where do you get your information? The new facilities should be considering all of the facilites- location, sustainability, long term costs, capacity, citywide accessibility- if in fact it will be a true, unbiased report, not one that is merely dictated by those who are paying the fee.

Questioner said...

Exactly! Anon 10:09, hopefully you can express this sentiment to the facilities consultant and the facilities committee.

Mark Rauterkus said...

As per 6-12 schools, consider the riot / brawls at Allderdice. It makes more sense to be in settings where the kids are more similar when something bad spills wildly.

Anonymous said...

This comment is totally offensive and shortsided. One of the reasons why people live in the city- or at least why I do- is to live alongside people not like me, and for my child to have that intimate exposure with different people of the world,

Questioner said...

It seems like Mark meant kids more similar in age, ie not mixing an 11 year old w/ an 18 or 19 year old. That preference would not seem to be offensive.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:58 and others, My sincere apologies if my tone was harsh. I believe, as I think many of you do, that the Board and the superintendent have agendas, one of them being to ultimately sell Schenley, To whom, one could only guess, but my gut tells me the biggest non-profit corp in the city. No, I don't know anything...just making educated guesses. I hope I'm wrong.
Questioner: I am curious, is Peabody considered an "under performing" school, (PSSA/NCLB status)? Is that perhaps why the Board and superintendent seem to be so gung-ho on having the IB program go there? If so, maybe if Obama revamps NCLB, could that change things?

Anonymous said...

Peabody's scores are low, yes. But so are those at Langley, Westinghouse, Oliver, and Carrick (you can go to the A plus schools website and find last year's scores or go to

However, Peabody is also at less than half the number of students it could support. There are only about 500 students in that building. Similarly, Westinghouse is highly underpopulated as well.

Right now, in this climate? I don't think the district is going to get any big money for Schenley. There may be a deal, but it's not for the big bucks. If anything, they guaranteed that when they made it out to sound in such horrible condition!

Reizenstein is likely a more valuable property -- or was before the current conditions. *That's* why they need (or needed) to move IB.

Anonymous said...

Just to follow up, these are the current numbers of students at these high schools:

575 Oliver
496 Peabody
493 Langley
335 Westinghouse

Compare that to:

684 Schenley (but only 10-12th and on its way out)
736 Perry
918 Carrick
1124 Brashear
1402 Allderdice

I think you can look at these numbers and see the future of your school...

Questioner said...

There does seem to be a desire to do away with underperforming schools, but the question is what to replace those programs with and where.

With the right kind of program in the building (such as CTE well aligned to the job market, with a strong academic program as well), the school could attract students who are now choosing charter schools or dropping out. Retaining dropouts alone would probably boost enrollment by 150 - 200. And the robotics program now at Peabody seems to be still counted as a Schenley program.

Strong CTE at Peabody would seem like a better bet for underperforming Peabody feeder students than sending them to Westinghouse or U Prep (while those programs might work for some they are probably not the answer for many others, and in any event U Prep seems to have only 25 spaces open in its current 9th grade for example, and these only opened as students left U Prep during the course of the year, so in reality it seems likely that most students would go to Westinghouse and two underperforming schools would essentially be combined in the Westinghouse building).

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:18 forgot to list the 9th graders at UP and Frick

Anonymous said...

Looking at the HS numbers it is interesting to note that the small high schools seem to be doing the worst, but the administration believes that small schools are at least a big part of the answer.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 3:18 returns to point out that those students mentioned don't attend any of these high schools. I wasn't making a comprehensive list of high school students, but of numbers at the remaining comprehensive high schools.

There are fewer than 150 in each of those 9th grade classes and those students are forming their own (smaller) high schools. Theoretically those students won't ever be going to the high schools listed, but will be part of 6-12 schools with about 1000 students total at IB and about 800 (I think -- if they're taking 75 a class for 6-8th grade at UPrep). I also didn't mention CAPA, because it's whole set-up is so totally different. Nor the incoming class at Sci-Tech.

None of those schools (IB, UPrep, Sci Tech or CAPA) are likely to be closed while this administration is still here!

PSCCer said...

The presentations done for boardmembers at Committee meetings are available on the pghboe site. Even if you do not get the commentary that goes with the powerpoints you can see the data, timelines, plans, etc.

Questioner said...

PSCCer, do you know if there are presentations at most committee meetings?

Mark Rauterkus said...

Of course I meant similar in terms of age groups. Generally, 6th graders and 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th graders are very different.

That is a huge developmental range with the 6-12 schools.

I choose to raise, live and educate our family in the city too.

Thanks for the defense Questioner.

PSCCer said...

Hello Questioner amd friends,

Most but not all committee meetings include a presentation eventually listed under OUR DISTRICT/BOARD OF DIRECTORS/COMMITTEE MEETING PRESENTATIIONS. To give a hat tip, in past many times before the day ended or the meeting ended the power point would be on the pghboe site. To be honest, a few EFA members would review the presentations at times and use the info to challenge when needed. If you have not used the links in the past, do so now. Keeping everyone honest is a worthy goal.