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:
- No school closings before neighborhood impact studies are conducted.
- Make everyone pay their fair share: Explore and advocate for enhanced and additional sources of revenue before considering cuts or closings.
- 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!