A Rolling Rally

The wheels on the bus go round and round … Yesterday over 100 parents, students, teachers, and community members got on yellow buses for a tour of Pittsburgh. We drove through neighborhoods impacted by four rounds of school closures during the past ten years. Along the way we heard from students who told us about the effects of displacement from multiple school relocations and their disrupted education. And we got pledges from elected officials as well as candidates for school board, city council, and mayor, who agreed to three specific points in our grassroots call to action:

  1. No school closings before neighborhood impact studies are conducted.
  2. Make everyone pay their fair share: Explore and advocate for enhanced and additional sources of revenue before considering cuts or closings.
  3. Keep public schools public: Reject any plan to give any control of our schools to the private sector.

Our new coalition, Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, developed this three-point pledge and it truly represents the work of the grassroots: with many, many meetings and email conversations, dozens of people participated in this process from Action United, AFSCME, the Hill District Education Council, One Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, SEIU Healthcare PA, and Yinzercation.

It is far more specific about education issues than anything our legislators or candidates have been asked to sign before. As a result, both the pledge and the Rolling Rally brought out some key distinctions among our elected officials and would-be representatives. It’s now clear who is willing to hold the bus for Pittsburgh students, and who might throw our children under that bus.

Sitting school board member Regina Holley agreed to all three points and spoke briefly at the final Rally in front of the now-closed Schenley High School. Board member Mark Brentley arrived from another school event just at the end of the event to show his support, though he missed the chance to speak. Significantly, mayoral candidates Jack Wagner and Jake Wheatley committed to coming but never showed up. This was especially telling on a day when the Post-Gazette once again promoted Wagner as their candidate, yet he broke his own promise and failed to come support Pittsburgh students and their families. [Post-Gazette, 5-19-13]

However, Bill Peduto was there and spoke very movingly about the importance of great public schools for great communities. In fact, Bill Peduto has been at every single town-hall meeting, rally, community conversation, press conference, and education-related event our grassroots movement has sponsored. Where was Wagner? He seriously missed the bus on this one. There’s a reason Yinzercation strongly endorsed Bill Peduto. [See “Pittsburgh is Lucky”]

City council candidate Dan Gilman also came and spoke quite powerfully about the role of community schools in Pittsburgh’s future.

In the three contested school board races, six of the seven candidates hopped on the bus and rolled with us around the city. In District 9, both Carolyn Klug and Dave Schuilenburg agreed to the pledge (candidate Lorraine Burton Eberhard did not attend). Similarly, in District 1 both Lucille Prater-Holliday and Sylvia Wilson committed to the three point agenda. The real surprise came in District 5, where Terry Kennedy readily made the pledge, but Steve DeFlitch refused to commit to the second and third points (about advocating for state resources and not handing our public schools over to private corporations).

The Rolling Rally highlighted the serious subject of school closure now looming before our city once again. By getting pledges from our candidates, our grassroots movement is getting out in front on this issue and helping to promote a deep community conversation. And we’ve demonstrated who is literally willing to get on the bus for public education. Now it’s your turn: make sure you don’t miss your stop and get out to vote tomorrow!

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3 thoughts on “A Rolling Rally

  1. Also posted on my Facebook page:
    The kids that spoke really moved me. It is criminal to continuously close schools and disrupt the lives of these kids and their families. They can’t walk to school anymore, so school is not equitably accessible for some families. Friendships are lost because kids go do different schools when their neighborhood school closes. This results in more disengaged students, more fighting, and more drop outs. Neighborhoods are left behind. Is this the outcome we are looking for or just an unintended consequence?
    I’m so grateful to the elected officials and candidates that stood with us yesterday! To the other elected officials (current Board members) and candidates (school board and mayoral) I ask: Are you with us?

    • I certainly have no intention of “misrepresenting” you (or anyone), as you claim in your piece. PIIN was going to ask the same three questions of all our candidates — apparently they asked #1 and #2, but not #3, substituting a question about a moratorium on school closures. Your site does not allow for comments or public dialogue, so I will respond here to your points. Here is what you wrote about Questions #2:
      “Question 2. Make everyone pay their fair share: Explore and advocate for enhanced and additional sources of revenue before considering cuts or closings. This was something that I said NO to and this is why. If you ask 10 different people if they are paying their “fair share” you will get 10 different answers. Without a clear definition of what “fair share” means you would never get to the second part of that question which is considering cuts or closing. / I do agree that cuts and closings should NOT be the first place our district should go to when it comes to closing the real deficit that we are running in the city. It is disruptive to communities and in many cases disproportionately effects those who are black and poor. But we cannot put our heads in the sand that we can just open more schools when our district has fewer students in more schools than peer schools in Pennsylvania.”

      I did not hear anyone yesterday suggest that we ought to simply “open more schools” — in fact, I heard many people say that we may indeed have to close schools, but that we ought to have much more data and community input before that happens. That is the entire point of the first part of the grassroots pledge — to have a moratorium on more school closures until we have a thorough community impact study on the last four rounds of closures.

      To your point about funding: this is very straightforward. We here in the grassroots have been fighting hard to make sure that all corporations pay their fair share to support our public goods. That means that UPMC’s tax exempt status is something we need to look closely at; it means that Rivers Casino needs to stop trying to have its property reassessed to get out of paying several million to our schools every year; and it means that we need to insist that our PA state legislators stop handing out corporate tax breaks like candy, starving our state of revenue at the same time they are claiming we don’t have money for public schools.

      Finally, in your piece, you say, “The state (not in recent years) but since 2010 has been very kind to Pittsburgh Public schools. I do not see any reason to not close schools and continue to advocate from more state resources, but to take that off the table until resources are restored just doesn’t make sense.” If I understand you correctly, you are saying that you believe the state has provided more than adequate funding to Pittsburgh Public Schools. This is really surprising to me. Pennsylvania actually ranks in the bottom 5 of all states in the proportion of funding it provides at the state level to our schools: it currently provides just 38%, while the national average is 48%. What that means is that our local towns and municipalities are footing the bill for a much larger portion of our schools — and is a major source of inequity in our state. And when the state does provide its funding, it does so using a terribly inequitable funding formula. For example, if our legislators put money back into this year’s education budget, the wealthier districts in our area will actually receive a much larger percentage increase than the poorest (with a district like South Fayette getting a 4.86% increase but Pittsburgh only a .75% increase).
      I have written extensively about both of these issues (you can find more information using key word searches on this site). Also, for a good graphic on state funding over time which shows that Gov. Corbett is still funding our schools at substantially less than they were receiving in *2008*, see:

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