Mayor’s Task Force on Education

I was honored earlier this year to be asked to serve on Mayor Peduto’s Task Force on Education. That group just wrapped up its fourth meeting last night and many folks have been asking how it’s going, so here’s a quick report.

I am optimistic by nature and was excited about the opportunity to get the Pittsburgh Public School administration, board members, and educators together with elected representatives from City Council, the mayor’s office, and community members to think about how to improve our schools and neighborhoods. Meeting process and organizational issues have beaten back some of that optimism, but I remain hopeful that (perhaps small) steps towards progress can be made.

The Task Force was actually created through a City Council resolution a year ago, when we were facing the potential closing of several more Pittsburgh schools. That resolution, authored by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, specifically called for the group to consider school closings and the district’s financial situation as well as equity issues. While some of us were asked to serve on the Task Force in the winter when it was announced to the press, others were invited later, and there was a several month delay while the Mayor’s office hired an education program manager and then an outside “mediator” to run the group.

A number of us objected to the idea of a “mediator,” rather than a facilitator, for these meetings, as it suggested that our work would be confrontational or conflict-ridden, which was not at all how we saw our role. After the first meeting in June, the Mayor’s office terminated the contract with the mediator. [Post-Gazette, 7-29-14] After our third meeting in September, we learned that the new education program manager had never moved to the city and had resigned. [Post-Gazette, 10-7-14]

The June meeting was largely spent trying to determine the agenda of the Task Force, with the discussion ranging from district finances to safety, housing, poverty, teacher quality, and relationships to outside entities such as foundations and businesses. (Full disclosure: I was not able to attend the first meeting as it was rescheduled at the last minute when I was having minor surgery. As it turned out, not one of the four parents on the Task Force was then able to attend.) The group decided to focus on school closings in the next meeting.

However, at that second meeting in July, we learned that superintendent Dr. Lane would not be bringing forward recommendations for any new school closures until the board asks for such a list. With the threat of imminent school closures off the table, the Task Force spent the second meeting in another discussion of what the agenda ought to be, focusing finally on 1) how PPS and the city can collaborate, and 2) how the groups might work together to improve public perceptions of the schools. While I (and others) pushed for the inclusion of community schools in the conversation – as this recommendation comes from the grassroots, is a natural fit with the theme of collaboration, and represents the work of many hundreds of our community members – the topic was shelved for future discussion.

At the third meeting of the Task Force in September, I presented ideas for collaboration between the district and the city stemming from the extensive work we had done for the last Great Public Schools Pittsburgh report. These are all specifically ideas for collaboration to improve the fiscal situation of the district (there are lots of other ways we could foster collaboration, but no ideas were presented). I will re-print all nine suggestions from the report here, though some lend themselves more to collaborative work with the city than others (stick with me, or skip ahead to read about the final Task Force meeting):

  1. Engage the entire community in a concerted effort to restore the state budget cuts. Since Governor Corbett’s historic budget cuts to Pennsylvania’s public schools in 2011, the Pittsburgh Public School district has lost $26.8 million per year. Just a single year’s loss represents well over half (58%) of the entire projected PPS deficit of $46 million. The cumulative loss to PPS over the past three years totals $80.4 million – far exceeding the district’s entire expected shortfall in 2015. In other words, the loss of state funding has been devastating to Pittsburgh students and is the single largest threat to the district’s financial well-being. Restoring the state budget cuts ought to be our community’s top priority. Fortunately, Pennsylvania could do just that. There is money in the state budget, but it’s not going to public education. Budgets are about priorities. [See our running list of “Where’s the Money” for a list of our revenue source ideas.]
  2. Lobby for a fair funding formula. Following its own 2006 “Costing-Out Study,” the Pennsylvania legislature concluded it was short-changing public schools $4 billion and established a six-year plan to phase in increased state funding for public education using a new, fair funding formula. The state was two-years into this plan when Governor Corbett took office and eliminated the new formula, making Pennsylvania one of only three states in the nation without a modern, equitable way to distribute its education budget. [Education Law Center, “School Funding Report 2013”] The current formula costs districts such as Pittsburgh millions, in part because it does not account for the actual number of students with special education needs nor the actual cost of educating those students. Pittsburgh has a larger proportion of special education students, including children with multiple disabilities, than many other districts. Right now, 18.1% of Pittsburgh students receive special education services, but the district is only reimbursed based on a flat rate of 16% in the broken funding formula. In addition, the state’s own Special Education Funding Commission recently found that special education funding has not increased since 2008-09, effectively pushing rising costs onto local school districts. [“PA Special Education Funding Commission Report,” December 2013]
  3. Work with state legislators for charter reform. The way Pennsylvania pays for charter schools is broken. An outdated and seriously flawed funding formula enacted by the PA legislature mandates that our local school districts make tuition payments to cyber charter schools that far exceed what it actually costs to educate children. In many districts across the state, local schools are able to provide cyber school services to students at half the cost cyber charters are charging. [Data and analysis at Reform PA Charter Schools]
    Our legislators need to stop taxpayer overpayment to cyber charter schools – currently estimated at $365 million every year – by limiting cyber charter school tuition rates to what it costs local school districts to provide the same or better cyber school service. We should also be auditing cyber charter schools at the end of each school year and returning excess cyber charter school payments to school districts.
    In addition, due to an administrative loophole in the law, all charter schools are paid twice for the same pension costs – once by local school districts and again by the state. Our state legislators need to stop this “double-dip” pension payment system, which by 2016-2017 will cost taxpayers $510 million. They also need to stop charter and cyber charter school management companies from using taxpayer dollars allocated for educating children on advertising and political lobbying. Currently, for-profit management companies of charters and cyber charters can spend tax dollars on 7-figure CEO salaries, expensive advertising, shareholder profits, billboards, TV and internet advertising, and more.
  1. Collaborate with the City of Pittsburgh to find mutually beneficial solutions. For example, we should consider shifting the balance of earned income tax revenues split by the city and the school district. In 2003, the state required the school district to turn over a portion of its earned income tax revenue to the city, which was bankrupt at the time. This has resulted in a loss of $84 million to the Pittsburgh Public Schools. [Post-Gazette, 11-4-13] We urge the district to work with Pittsburgh’s new mayor, Bill Peduto, who has expressed an interest in re-visiting this state-mandate. The mayor’s transition team recently reported on many other ways it recommends the city and school district work together to find mutually beneficial solutions, including cost savings with shared services. The new cabinet-level Chief of Education and Neighborhood Reinvestment position within the mayor’s office is a step in the right direction, as is the new 21-member task force proposed by City Council. These efforts recognize that strong schools make strong communities, that we can no longer afford to silo the school district off on its own and expect it to thrive, and that the future of our city depends on finding bigger solutions to our mutual challenges.
  2. Ensure that everyone pays their fair share. In the last property assessment, the Pittsburgh Public School district lost more than $10 million in tax revenue from large corporations. [Post-Gazette, 12-6-13] For instance, BNY Mellon got a $1.5 million tax bonus from the reassessment. Despite its promise to support the city, Rivers Casino has petitioned to reduce its assessment every year since it opened, attempting to shortchange Pittsburgh schools by $1 million per year. [Post-Gazette, 8-25-12] In addition, some large non-profits do not pay anything to the school district. For example, Allegheny County controller Chelsa Wagner conservatively estimates that if UPMC, the largest land-owner in the county, were to pay property taxes just on its holdings in the city of Pittsburgh alone, it would owe the school district $14 million. [Post-Gazette, 3-21-13] If UPMC submitted PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) to PPS, schools would gain $8.5 million a year. [Special report, Post-Gazette, 9-23-12] We urge the district to work with the new city administration to ensure that all corporations pay their fair share to support our public schools.
  3. Consider a small local tax increase. A recent survey found that Pittsburghers would support a small increase in their local taxes to support public schools. [Great Public Schools Pittsburgh community report, October 2013.] This is not surprising given that a similar tax was recently approved by voters to support public libraries. [Tribune Review, 2-26-13] We support the Pittsburgh school board’s January 2014 decision to raise taxes, yielding $3 million for the district. [Post-Gazette, 1-22-14]
  4. Work with federal legislators to end sequestration. Federal cuts due to the U.S. government sequestration cuts cost Pittsburgh Public Schools over $2 million in the 2013-14 academic year. This has already resulted in the loss of six early-childhood classrooms. [Post-Gazette, 7-25-13]
  5. Explore alternative sources of revenue with existing resources. We believe the district can repurpose schools that are supposedly “under-enrolled,” and attract more students to those schools. The district can expand the magnets for which there is tremendous demand. For example, the district could take some of the most selective magnets in the city, such as Sci-Tech, Dilworth, and CAPA and expand them. The district could also expand into the area of adult education as well as rent space in its underutilized schools. We also encourage the district to fully consider proposals put forth by the community for monetizing existing assets as put forth in the October 2013 VIVA report.
  6. Partner with local foundations and community organizations. Community based schools have been successfully implemented in other cities with local partners helping to cover the costs of many of the programs and services envisioned in this report. Pittsburgh is blessed with philanthropic and business sectors actively engaged in public education: one goal of the community schools strategy is to get all partners “pulling together” rather than working piecemeal. By engaging foundations and local businesses in the planning and implementation phases, they will also be able to make more strategic use of their resources. For example, partners might spend a dollar once to support a community health care clinic in a school, rather than spending that dollar three times to support three different program goals around “Communities,” “Healthcare,” and “Children and Education.”

——————

These were the only suggestions put on the table in September. The highlight of that meeting for me was the participation of our three student members, who emphasized the way in which gentrification in city neighborhoods is pushing out families and entire schools (ala Reizenstein, now Bakery Square). Their insightful comments about poverty, housing, tax credits for urban development, and the city’s ability to attract and retain families were truly inspiring.

At the September meeting we learned that our fourth, and what was to be our final, meeting in October would be open to the public. The focus of that meeting last night was to be on “marketing” ideas to improve public perceptions of Pittsburgh Public Schools. A few Task Force members and folks from the audience contributed ideas, and also shared a number of pressing concerns in response to Dr. Porter’s question, “What can be better about our schools?” [For more details, see Post-Gazette, 10-21-14]

I reminded the Task Force of the following marketing-related recommendation from the Mayor’s Transition Team subcommittee on PPS partnerships (which I also served on last December):

“Mayor as an Advocate for Positive School Press: The mayor holds regular meetings and publicity events at our schools. The mayor regularly highlights positive events occurring at the schools as a part of these media events. This will increase media attention on positive events occurring at our schools. It will make the positive relationship between the city and schools apparent.”

I then presented ten additional suggestions – gathered from the community in conversations with parents, students, teachers, and others – about how the Mayor and City Council could partner with Pittsburgh Public Schools to serve as media and public relations advocates for public education:

  1. What if this is the “year of the public school” in Pittsburgh? Hold every press conference at a different public school throughout the city.
  2. Use the schools for public meetings and include students.
  3. Feature PPS students whenever possible (such as inviting students to help pick the art for his new office – which was brilliant!) More student bands at city events, students leading the pledge of allegiance, students reading their work. Use PPS students as “the face of Pittsburgh.”
  4. Create a website featuring PPS stories and graduates. Or include these in existing web sites.
  5. Highlight PPS graduates whenever and wherever possible: Hall of Fame, emphasize in mayoral and City Council proclamations, emphasize to the press.
  6. Designate each week a certain school’s week. With 50 PPS schools, every week of the year could celebrate a different school: “Pittsburgh Manchester week,” then “Pittsburgh Lincoln week,” etc. Or double up, and feature two schools each week for 25 weeks during the school year. Concentrate news stories on those schools and use it as a way to engage families and communities in the process.
  7. Engage students, families and communities in creating the list of “What works in my school” or “What’s great about my school.” Otherwise it’s not authentic and rings hollow. Kids can spot what’s phony.
  8. Sponsor a student media or video contest to have kids tell their stories about #PPSWhatWorks, #PPSrocks.
  9. Acknowledge that we want these success stories in every PPS school; not an attempt to whitewash or paper over problems. Stories of “What is Great” are both real and aspirational.
  10. Encourage billboard and other media donations for an ad campaign featuring students and parents explaining why #WeChosePPS

We learned that our final meeting will be with Mayor Peduto himself, and then the Task Force will submit its concluding report by December. If you have anything to add, please let me know and I will bring it to the table! I consider these small windows through which we can make our voices heard. Process issues can frustrate our attempts, or even slam those windows shut, but our determination and commitment to education justice for all students is strong stuff. And I am still encouraged that our new mayor truly wants to hear from the community. So let’s hear your ideas!

Books for ARThouse Kids

Remember our Manchester Miracle? Two years ago we helped engage literally thousands of people all over the world in a book drive that wound up completely renovating the library at Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8. [For original story, see “Library Books and Equity”] It’s time for another miracle.

Our friend, the amazing artist Vanessa German, is opening a reading room in the new ARThouse. This art-making space for children in Homewood literally started on Vanessa’s front porch as neighborhood kids gathered to watch her paint and make sculptures. The Love Front Porch project outgrew the porch and moved into a nearby house that Vanessa purchased with support from the community. It’s a beautiful place where young people gather after school to feed their creative souls, make art, eat snacks, do homework – and read.

ArtHouse

ArtHouseBoy

Vanessa explains, “we are building a reading room at the new ARThouse because i noticed this year that kids would come right after school not going to their homes or homework programs and they’d sit right down in the midst of the paint and scramble and attempt to find 5 equations that equal 132. with, not surprisingly, great frustration. also the reading room because it is going to be soft and quiet and comfortable and, hopefully, filled with reams and reams of adventures.”

ArtHouseKids

The architect of our Manchester Miracle, children’s librarian extraordinaire Sheila May-Stein, has hand-picked a list of books for the ARThouse. You can purchase new books from this Amazon Wishlist she has compiled and they will be sent directly to the ARThouse. (If you have books shipped from another source, please send them c/o Vanessa German, 7803 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15208.) You may also drop off gently used children’s and teen books on the porches of Yinzercation steering committee members Kathy Newman (Squirrel Hill: 5353 Beeler Street) or Tara McElfresh (Morningside: 1001 Chislett St).

As many in our community already know, Sheila is having major surgery tomorrow and has asked that folks send books to the ARThouse along with their healing thoughts for her extended recovery. What an amazing thing Ms. Sheila has started. And it’s already taking off:

  • In the past 48 hours, over 150 books have been purchased from the list.
  • Writer Katha Pollitt from The Nation, who supported our Manchester Miracle, got actress Salli Richardson of “I Am Legend” to retweet and rapper Missy Elliot to favorite her tweet about the project.
  • Children’s author Arnold Adoff put our message out on his Facebook page.
  • Homewood native Robin Walker Williams, is arranging for Vanessa to be on early morning TV shows to discuss the reading room project.
  • The founder of Awesome Pittsburgh bought 7 books and is sharing the message. (And Tara McElfresh is going to write a $1,000 grant to Awesome Pittsburgh for the ARThouse!)
  • The Homeless Children’s Education Fund is sending books.
  • The Homewood Children’s Village has 100 books they are donating.

Sheila asks, “What can you say when people all over Pittsburgh decide to take time out of their day to send biographies of Handel and Mozart to children in Homewood? When Lakota origin tales and giant coffee table books with full color plates of Basqiat’s work are on their way to wondering eyes and little hands? Each book a message straight from a heart to a child: you matter. you have value. you belong on this earth.” These children are all of our children. They belong to all of us:

Vanessa German: “we made books and ate pizza last week. we were the writers, publishers and makers. we are so bold.”

“we made books and ate pizza last week. we were the writers, publishers and makers. we are so bold.” – Vanessa German

“Miyah made a great journal last week. high design if you'd have asked me. yesterday she came in. pulled last week's journal from her book bag. with the pages filled. she then went into production on a new journal.i remarked. you could be an entrepenuer. a young book maker. i went outside to work with some of the younger artists. when i came back in at the end of the evening. she had 5 new books laid out. creating masterful, colorfilled covers. and she is SOOOO quiet. she moves like a light wind from the east. remarkable.” – Vanessa German

“Miyah made a great journal last week. high design if you’d have asked me. yesterday she came in. pulled last week’s journal from her book bag. with the pages filled. she then went into production on a new journal.i remarked. you could be an entrepenuer. a young book maker. i went outside to work with some of the younger artists. when i came back in at the end of the evening. she had 5 new books laid out. creating masterful, colorfilled covers. and she is SOOOO quiet. she moves like a light wind from the east. remarkable.” – Vanessa German

Vanessa posted this poem on October 9th, when we had lost three African-American teenagers in one week to violence:

don’t think that it isn’t heartbreaking that our children are being killed and left for useless and worthless in a world that all too often neither celebrates, acknowledges or even considers their inherent, immutable, wisdom and beauty. don’t think that we don’t grieve them all. because we do. and every child we love. is every child we love. and we love the children we love as we love ALL the children whose names and places we know and do not know. and we celebrate them. in art and dancing and joy and food. and we celebrate them as the celebration in and of itself is an honoring of their remarkable remarkable-ness, is an honoring of their profound and mysterious and glorious humanity. we honor them as we honor and celebrate ourselves. and every joy we share in. is a healing. every ounce of paint and glue and water, every seed of glitter every juice box every t-shirt every over-crowded classroom Arthouse and city park is a healing. and we grieve. and the grief is an honoring. and we celebrate them in our humanity, in the courage of our human commitment and political will– we stand for us all. Love.

Can you send a book from the Amazon Wishlist and then help spread the word? Vanessa German, the ARThouse, and the children of Homewood need our help. Let’s make another miracle.

Vanessa German

Vanessa German performing at our Rally for Public Education, February 2013.

Go, Go, Go GOTV!

OK, I’ll admit the first time I saw the acronym “GOTV” I thought Go-TV was some kind of new television. Or that we were supposed to be cheering for TVs. Then I realized it stands for “Get Out the Vote!” And nothing could be more important right now. With just three weeks left in this gubernatorial race, we need to be cheering on voters to get to the polls.

Our friend Susan Spicka, a mom who leads a volunteer group of parents much like ours in central PA, has been out knocking on doors for the Wolf campaign in Franklin County. She reports that even though she isn’t seeing Corbett yard signs or bumper stickers in that normally heavily Republican part of the state, “Anyone who wants to see Tom Corbett get booted out of office this year needs to vote on November 4. Polls don’t win elections, voter turnout does. A whole lot of Republicans will hold their noses and vote for Corbett. Voters who support Wolf need to make sure to vote for him.”

Research confirms her point. Kristin Kanthak, as associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that Tom Wolf’s large lead in the polls is starting to close as more Corbett-leaning voters become willing to express their support for him: “This kind of tightening is really pretty common with someone where their positive numbers aren’t very high.” In other words, while the incumbent has had dismal approval ratings and his supporters were not lining up early on to cheer for him, they are more willing now. And Dr. Kanthak points out that Corbett is “the most endangered Republican in the country right now,” so millions of dollars in out of state contributions have been pouring into his campaign coffers. [Public Source, 10-14-14]

Back to Susan Spicka’s point: voter turnout is what will win this race. That means getting people to the polls. What can you do? Here are two easy ways to help GOTV!

Our colleagues at the statewide Education Voters Action Fund (which is separate from Education Voters PA, which cannot endorse candidates) will be running a virtual phone bank. You can make calls from home on the next three Thursdays, starting tomorrow – October 16, 23 & 30th – between 6 and 8PM to help reach voters directly in the districts that matter the most in the upcoming election. Everyone will be phoning for Wolf, and when possible, you will phone for other endorsed candidates along with Wolf to double the impact of the phone call. Some endorsed candidates may be Republicans who have been friends, and will continue to be friends, of public education. (This is great!)

Education Voters Action Fund will provide you with a script. All you need is a phone and a computer. Please contact Bob Previdi at evaf@educationvoterspa.org or call him at 267-235-8523 to sign up or with any questions.

Now here’s a second way you can GOTV and meet Tom Wolf in person! This Saturday, October 18th, our friends at the “Make it Our UPMC” campaign will be hosting a meet-and-greet with Mr. Wolf at 10:30AM at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center (1852 Enoch St. / 15219). From there, everyone will fan out for a special door-to-door canvass. You will be with other people, they’ll show you where to go, and you’ll have information so you know what to say (if you want it). In other words – this is easy, all you have to do is show up!

This is it, folks. Just three weeks left. It’s all about GOTV now. Go, go, go!

MIOUPMC October 18 FINAL

Celebrating Hope, Action, and Change

Pittsburgh hosted the national launch of Bob Herbert’s new book last week with an event that was part rally, part community meeting, and part serious conversation. But it was also a fun celebration of our education justice movement with kids and drums and balloons, full of hope that ordinary folks like us can change the world when we work together. Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America tells a series of close-up stories about growing income inequality, the true costs of war, and our country’s failure to invest in public goods from infrastructure to education. It’s a devastatingly honest account of our national policy failures and the consequences of misplaced priorities. In a book full of gripping narratives – including a woman badly injured in the Minneapolis bridge collapse and a solider from Georgia who loses both his legs and more in Afghanistan – we are a point of hope. Herbert was inspired by our truly grassroots movement fighting back against the defunding and corporatization of public education. And he wound up writing three chapters on education, two of them framed closely by our work in Pittsburgh.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provided children's activities

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provided children’s activities

Drummers from Pittsburgh Dilworth and Pittsburgh Linden performed for the audience

Drummers from Pittsburgh Dilworth and Pittsburgh Linden performed for the audience

Rev. Freeman, president of PIIN, delivers opening words helping us think about the three African American teenagers we lost in Pittsburgh in just one week

Rev. Freeman, president of PIIN, delivers opening words helping us think about the three African American teenagers we lost in Pittsburgh in just one week

Over 300 people were in McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University for the event!

Over 300 people filled McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University for the event!

Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette moderated the conversation with Bob Herbert

Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette moderated the conversation with Bob Herbert

Bob Herbert emphasized the need to grassroots activism and a coordinated effort to fight income inequality and for good jobs.

Bob Herbert emphasized the need for grassroots activism and a coordinated effort to fight income inequality and for good jobs.

Bob Herbert explains that the movement will have to come from the bottom up.

Bob Herbert explains that the movement will have to come from the bottom up.

Jessie Ramey and Kathy Newman are two of the four Pittsburgh parents mentioned by name in the book (spoiler alert:  Sara Segel and Sara Goodkind are the other two!)

Jessie Ramey and Kathy Newman are two of the four Pittsburgh parents mentioned by name in the book (spoiler alert: Sara Segel and Sara Goodkind are the other two!)

Bob Herbert answered audience questions

Bob Herbert answers audience questions

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Our friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop sold copies of the book hot off the press!

Our friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop sold copies of the book hot off the press for Herbert’s first stop on his national book tour!

Bob signs books while a film crew interviews audience members.

Bob signs books while a film crew interviews audience members.

We are participating in a new social media campaign encouraging people to talk about what #OurSchoolsNeed

We are participating in a new social media campaign encouraging people to talk about what #OurSchoolsNeed

Hill District activist Kent Bey, who runs the Stand Up Now Network, participates in the #OurSchoolsNeed campaign

Hill District activist Kent Bey, who runs the Stand Up Now Network, participates in the #OurSchoolsNeed campaign

Tony Norman with his son, Chris, a PPS graduate, say we need more art in our schools

Tony Norman with his son, Chris, a PPS graduate, say we need more art in our schools

Yinzercation_0220 Not surprisingly, Bob Herbert is getting a lot of national press, including this interview on Bill Moyers (where you can also read the introduction to the book) and an excellent Politico feature on “The Plot Against Public Education: How Millionaires and Billionaires are Ruining Our Schools.” Locally, Bob Herbert was on WESA’s “Essential Pittsburgh,” the Rick Smith Show, Jon Delano’s KDKA Sunday business show, and was interviewed by the City Paper. Congratulations, Pittsburgh, on another moment in the national spotlight as we celebrate real hope, grassroots action, and change from the bottom up.

If you missed this incredible book launch, or just want to keep the conversation going, please consider joining our co-sponsor, the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Council, for an informal gathering to discuss Losing Our Way: Monday, October 27, 2014 from 7-8PM at the PAJC offices (Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 5th Avenue). Light refreshments will be served. More information at pajc@pajc.net.

Top 10 Reasons to See Bob Herbert

We are hosting Bob Herbert, the award winning, longtime New York Times columnist, for the national launch of his new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. I know that sounds like a very serious title, but this is going to be an exciting event and the book features our local education justice work! So why should you come next Thursday (October 9th) at 5:30PM to Carnegie Mellon? Here are the top ten reasons you don’t want to miss this event:

1.  You will be inspired. Bob is a terrific writer and speaker. With this book, he takes us across the U.S. to look at the consequences of the crippling Great Recession, austerity, and de-investment in the public good, profiling ordinary Americans who are trying to rebuild their lives and our country. Our story of Pittsburgh’s own grassroots parent movement and our efforts to save public education in Pennsylvania from devastating state budget cuts is the hope-filled highpoint of the book. You will be re-inspired by what we have accomplished working together. And now others around the country will be looking to Pittsburgh as a model for citizen action.

2.  Celebrate our victories. This is our time to shine a little in the national spotlight! Education justice work is a long haul; even narrowly defined goals such as restoring state budget cuts takes years of work, with many highs and lows along the way. It’s important to stop and recognize what we have achieved together. And this event is yet another achievement: we are hosting the national launch of this book (yes, Bob will be celebrating with us here in Pittsburgh before he even launches the book back home in New York City)!

3.  Get a signed copy of the book. Our friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop will be on hand selling books hot off the press and Bob will stay after the Q&A to sign copies.

4.  Be a part of a community wide event. We have 15 co-sponsors from across the region working on this event, from universities and academic groups to faith-based organizations and labor and community organizations. That doesn’t happen every day in Pittsburgh.

  • Action United
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
  • Carnegie Mellon University:
    • Center for Arts in Society
    • Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE)
    • English Department
    • History Department
  • Great Public Schools Pittsburgh
  • OnePittsburgh
  • Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network
  • Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee
  • Pittsburgh Collaborative for Working Class Studies
  • Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
  • Point Park University School of Communication
  • University of Pittsburgh English Department

5.  Hear the Dilworth drummers. These fantastic students from Pittsburgh Dilworth K-5 raise the roof with their music and enthusiasm when they perform. You have enjoyed them at some of our previous events: don’t miss this chance to hear them again at 5PM when the doors open. We will also have children’s activities sponsored by the fabulous librarians of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh!

6.  See Tony Norman. Mr. Norman – a columnist, associate editor, and book editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – will be moderating the conversation with Bob Herbert, followed by a Q&A with the audience. Tony has long been one of my favorite columnists and it will be a treat to see him live on stage with Bob.

7.  Find out who is in the book. Hint: at least four Pittsburgh parents are named in the book. And there’s an entire chapter framed by the story Bob discovered at Pittsburgh Lincoln preK-5 when he visited that school. Find out what he has to say about yinzers!

8.  It’s free. With free parking. In Pittsburgh, that’s enough said.

9.  Our elected representatives will be there. From the school board to city council, the mayor’s office, and state legislators, many of our elected representatives have told us they are planning to attend. We want them to see a crowd and know that public education advocates are a force to be reckoned with. (No joke – this is really important.) We had 1,000 people out for the launch of Diane Ravitch’s book one year ago and they really took notice – make sure you come and help this event be a big success.

10.  Because Bob Herbert. Seriously, Bob Herbert people!

Herbert_BookLaunch_flyer2

It’s Education, Stupid

Is it any surprise that Governor Tom Corbett is woefully trailing his opponent, Tom Wolf, in the polls? The latest numbers released last week show Tom W. ahead of Tom C., 49% to 31%. With 60% of registered voters saying that Pennsylvania is “off on the wrong track,” survey respondents continue to name education as their number one concern. [Franklin & Marshall poll, Sept. 2014] In fact, education is now far ahead of “the economy,” which has traditionally been voters’ primary concern (going back to at least 2006 in these polls).

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign against incumbent President George H.W. Bush featured the famous line, “It’s the economy, stupid.” In Pennsylvania this election cycle, “it’s education, stupid.” (Now, my mother taught me not to call people stupid; so please note, I am not calling you stupid, dear reader, I know you get this point – which is exactly the point!)

In fact, I said this very thing last week when I appeared on “Get to the Point,” a PCNC Friday night talk show. I had the chance to sit across from Bob Bozzuto, the Executive Director of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, and Katie McGinty, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and now chair of the Fresh Start PA campaign supporting Tom Wolf. And for an hour, I did my best to steer the conversation back to education, education, education.

Jessie Ramey on "Get to the Point" with host Lenny McAllister, Katie McGinty of Fresh Start PA, and Bob Bozzuto, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party

Jessie Ramey on “Get to the Point” with host Lenny McAllister, Katie McGinty of Fresh Start PA, and Bob Bozzuto, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Republican Party (September 19, 2014)

Yesterday, we took this message directly to Gov. Corbett himself. Or at least we tried. The governor was in Pittsburgh for a rare visit, but not to meet with educators or students or parents. Rather, he was in town to meet with Marcellus shale corporate executives. Yes indeed. He reserves his elbow rubbing for the people who line his campaign coffers with huge donations to make sure he doesn’t tax their industry (which would help pay for our public schools). [Post-Gazette, 9-25-14] OnePittsburgh rolled out the “People’s Red Carpet” welcome outside the convention center to demonstrate who he is walking over.

Just to further prove how out of touch this governor is with Pennsylvania families, on Monday at his first debate with Tom Wolf, Gov. Corbett said that nurses, social workers, librarians, guidance counselors, and paraprofessionals don’t count. He was referring to the 27,000 educators who have lost their jobs since his historic budget cuts in 2011. Specifically, Gov. Corbett stated: “That’s a false number. Those aren’t all teachers. Those are people that worked in the system, that were part of the administrations. They weren’t all teachers.” [CSPAN archive] These were 27,000 adults our children had in their lives every day, working with them in their classrooms, helping them succeed in school, and we’re not supposed to count them as lost educators?

Election day is November 4th and it can’t come soon enough. Between now and then, Pittsburgh’s own folk legend, Anne Feeney, will be traveling around Pennsylvania with her “Crush Corbett Road Show.” Anne asked Yinzercation to create a flyer with information about the governor’s record on education, which she will be distributing on her concert tour. In closing, I leave you here with a copy, as the facts speak for themselves.

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Save the date: Bob Herbert book event!

Save the date – you don’t want to miss this! We are hosting the national launch of Bob Herbert’s new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. You might remember Mr. Herbert as the award winning and longtime columnist for the New York Times. This book is especially exciting for us because Bob came to Pittsburgh several times to interview parents and teachers in our local grassroots movement and wound up writing three chapters on our fight for public education!

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After you mark your calendar, please RSVP on our Facebook event page, where you can also invite all your friends and colleagues and help us spread the word. Here are some more details:

Date:    Thursday, October 9, 2014

Time:    5:30 – 6:30PM, moderated discussion and Q&A.
Doors will open at 5 with student performances & children’s activities.
Followed by book signing.

Location:    McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh 15213.
Free parking in the garage.

Hosted by:    Yinzercation (we are profiled in the book!)

Moderator:    Tony Norman, columnist and associate editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Co-Sponsors:    Action United
American Federation of Teachers
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Carnegie Mellon University:
–Center for Arts in Society
–Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE)
–English Department
–History Department
Great Public Schools Pittsburgh
OnePittsburgh
Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network
Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee
Pittsburgh Collaborative for Working Class Studies
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
Point Park University School of Communication
University of Pittsburgh English Department

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Bob Herbert

And here’s more information about the book from the publisher to whet your appetite:

From longtime New York Times columnist Bob Herbert comes a wrenching portrayal of ordinary Americans struggling for survival in a nation that has lost its way.
In his eighteen years as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, Herbert championed the working poor and the middle class. After filing his last column in 2011, he set off on a journey across the country to report on Americans who were being left behind in an economy that has never fully recovered from the Great Recession. The portraits of those he encountered fuel his new book, Losing Our Way. Herbert’s combination of heartrending reporting and keen political analysis is the purest expression since the Occupy movement of the plight of the 99 percent.

The individuals and families who are paying the price of America’s bad choices in recent decades form the book’s emotional center: an exhausted high school student in Brooklyn who works the overnight shift in a factory at minimum wage to help pay her family’s rent; a twenty-four-year-old soldier from Peachtree City, Georgia, who loses both legs in a misguided, mismanaged, seemingly endless war; a young woman, only recently engaged, who suffers devastating injuries in a tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis; and a group of parents in Pittsburgh who courageously fight back against the politicians who decimated funding for their children’s schools.

Herbert reminds us of a time in America when unemployment was low, wages and profits were high, and the nation’s wealth, by current standards, was distributed much more equitably. Today, the gap between the wealthy and everyone else has widened dramatically, the nation’s physical plant is crumbling, and the inability to find decent work is a plague on a generation. Herbert traces where we went wrong and spotlights the drastic and dangerous shift of political power from ordinary Americans to the corporate and financial elite. Hope for America, he argues, lies in a concerted push to redress that political imbalance. Searing and unforgettable, Losing Our Way ultimately inspires with its faith in ordinary citizens to take back their true political power and reclaim the American dream.