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2015 Pittsburgh School Board Elections 101

Nadine Champsi
May04/ 2015

As the Pittsburgh Public School District stands on the brink of important decisions regarding its future, Pittsburgh parents have the chance to make their voices heard. On May 19, city residents will vote in the primaries to choose nominees for the nine-person School Board tasked with answering important questions like “Who will be our next superintendent?” and “How will we address the projected budgetary deficits?”

This year, four of the nine school board seats are up for re-election. In District 2, which covers Highland Park, Morningside, Lawrenceville, Troy Hill and parts of the Northside, Dr. Regina Holley is running unopposed to retain her seat. Dr. Holley has spent decades working in PPS and has served on the board since 2012. She believes in a holistic approach to fully educating our children and supports the community school model and restorative justice practices.

In this article, we introduce you to the eight candidates running for the contested open board seats in three districts. Not sure which district you live in? Check here.

District 4 

District 4 includes Oakland, Point Breeze, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. There are two candidates running for this seat.

Kirk Burkley, candidate for District 4

Kirk Burkley lives in Shadyside with his wife and two children, who attend the private Campus School at Carlow University. Burkley is a managing partner at the law firm Bernstein-Burkley where he supervises the firm’s Bankruptcy and Restructuring practice group. He is also the president of the local chapter of Turnaround Management Association, which helps companies in fiscal crisis.

What are the key components of his platform?

Burkley has several components of his platform including boosting school enrollment, closing the existing opportunity gaps and addressing the projected budgetary deficit. He proposes several strategies to address the deficit including  1) “getting creative” during the next teacher’s contract negotiation and search for the next superintendent 2) advocating changes to Pittsburgh’s school transportation system, which currently transports all city children to their schools even if they attend suburban private ones and 3) reducing and repositioning the number of buildings in PPS through school consolidation. He also believes that in the event there are teacher furloughs, the district should not use the “Last In First Out” (LIFO) policy that can disproportionately hurt effective teachers with less tenure by allowing seniority to trump other factors. *This section has been revised at the candidate’s request.

What does he see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Burkley notes there are important changes happening in Pittsburgh. Younger, higher earners with more disposable income are moving into the city and catalyzing growth of commercial development and real estate values. But he asks, “What’s going to happen in six or seven years when these people start having kids? Where are they going to go?” Motivating these individuals to choose PPS rather than relocating to suburban school districts is an important challenge for Burkley.

lynnda wren
Lynda Wrenn, candidate for District 4

Lynda Wrenn lives in Point Breeze with her husband and four children, all of whom are currently attending or have graduated from PPS. Wrenn has both a personal and professional familiarity with PPS. She did her student teaching at Northside schools while obtaining a Masters of Arts in Teaching at Chatham University. She went on to coordinate research studies in local middle schools and served on the PPS Gifted Education Task Force and the Summer Dreamers Academy Task Force. She is also actively involved as a parent of PPS students, serving on PTOs and volunteering. Wrenn has the endorsement of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

What are the key components of her platform?

Wrenn brings a unique perspective to the school board race. She is the parent of children who attended relatively well-resourced schools in the system. But in her professional roles she visited many of the schools on the opposite side of the spectrum. For this reason, she strongly believes in bringing equity to the district and closing the opportunity gaps that exist. To do so, she proposes providing more quality early childhood education, making sure students are proficient in reading in primary grades and involving parents more. She also believes in the potential of the Pittsburgh Promise to change the lives of children in the district. “The Pittsburgh Promise is a great gift,” she says, “We need to get our kids Promise-ready and we need to start working on it early.”

What does she see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Wrenn mentions the interrelatedness of two important challenges facing the school district–budgetary concerns and student retention. “I think there are two populations in public schools,” says Wrenn. “Those that don’t have an option and those that do. We can’t just cut resources without pushing away the students that do have an option and hurting the students that don’t.” To address budgetary issues, Wrenn alludes to the $13,000/pupil paid by the district to charter schools in the area. While the state previously reimbursed a percentage of these payments to the district, it no longer does and Wrenn would fight to get these reimbursements back.

District 6

District 6 includes parts of Ridgemont, Banksville, Beechview, Brookline, Duquesne Heights and Mount Washington. There are three candidates running for this open seat.

Tracy Link
Tracy Link, candidate for District 6

Tracy Link lives in Mount Washington and is the mother of four children who currently attend or have graduated from PPS. She has been an active volunteer and leader in the district for many years, serving on PTOs and creating programs to increase parental engagement, reduce bullying and build character among students.

What are the key components of her platform?

Link’s primary focus is increasing parental engagement in the schools through better communication and outreach. Though she acknowledges that some parents face socioeconomic factors that hinder their presence in schools, she believes the district could do a better job of helping “parents believe in themselves, raise their children and provide them with other resources.” She also specifically mentions the recent bomb threat at Brashear High School and the importance of improved parental communication during crisis situations.

What does she see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Drawing on her professional experience as a job coach for individuals with disabilities, Link believes every student has the potential to overcome their obstacles and become successful. However, she believes there are societal dependency issues hindering some children. “There are students that I have spoken to that are not raised to be successful. They do not understand what success looks like,” says Link. “They are only feeling their worth based on the amount of their SSI check. Welfare is not a retirement plan and we need to have some courageous conversations about that.” Link believes that opening communication lines with parents can begin to address this challenge.

Moira Kaleida, candidate for District 6

Moira Kaleida lives in Beechview with her young family, including one child who attends Pittsburgh Montessori in Friendship. Kaleida is a graduate of PPS and has maintained her ties to the school system through extensive volunteering. She also has dual bachelor degrees in Secondary Education in Citizenship and Social Sciences from Penn State University and did her student teaching within PPS. She currently serves on the executive boards of two local nonprofits, mentors other mothers through NurturePA and serves as her district’s representative on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. She has the endorsement of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

What are the key components of her platform?

Kaleida is strongly committed to the idea of free quality pre-K for everyone in the city regardless of family income. “Right now we send only one out of six kids to pre-K in Pennsylvania and that’s a shame,” she says. “A school board that believes in early childhood education for all is a board that cares about the future of the students.” Kaleida is also a strong proponent of the “community school” model where a neighborhood school serves as the epicenter of a community and provides not just educational but medical and social services to families. Finally, Kaleida believes in “restorative justice” in our schools where prevention of student misconduct is a focus, punishments are developmentally-appropriate and suspensions or expulsions are a last resort.

What does she see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Kaleida is very supportive of district teachers and believes PPS could be doing more to recruit great teachers and keep them, including starting the hiring process earlier in the summer. She also believes that PPS could do a better job marketing the positives in its schools to counteract negative stereotypes and recruit more families. Though Kaleida acknowledges the forecasted budgetary deficits in the school system, she believes in a more long-term cost-cutting strategy where investments in early childhood education, after-school programs and well-paid teachers pay off in the long run.

Samuel Hurst, Pittsburgh School Board candidate 2015 ELN
Samuel Hurst, candidate for District 6

Samuel Hurst lives in Brookline and attended PPS as a child. Though he has two daughters who previously attended PPS, they currently live with their mothers outside of the region. Hurst is a transportation provider with Pittsburgh Transportation Group and is not currently involved with the school district though he has previously volunteered at Pittsburgh West Liberty and was the Vice President of their PTO. Hurst also ran for City Council in 2013.

What are the main components of his platform?

Hurst is strongly committed to investment in technical and trade electives and would like to see more students “walking out of our schools with useful skills that can get them a job.” Hurst also emphasizes the importance of fathers in students’ lives and would like to create programs to engage them more.

What does he see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Hurst is primarily concerned with the financial situation of PPS. He acknowledges that budgetary cuts may need to be made, but emphasizes they should not affect teachers and would instead be targeted against “middle men.” He would also like to work with city government to bring more families into Pittsburgh to attend PPS.

District 8

District 8 includes Allegheny Center, Allegheny West, California-Kirkbride, Central Northside, Fineview, Manchester, Perry South, North Shore, Downtown, Crawford Roberts, Middle Hill, Bedford Dwellings, Southshore, Southside Flats, Beltzhoover, Allentown and Knoxville. There are three candidates running for this seat.

Patricia Rogers, candidate for District 8

Patricia Rogers lives in the Mexican War Streets and attended PPS as a child. Though Rogers does not have children of her own, she has extensive background working with underserved youth, especially those in the juvenile justice system. She also has a Masters in Education from Penn State University. Rogers is well-connected in her district serving on many boards and volunteering with organizations like the YMCA and Urban Youth Action. She has also taught leadership classes at CCAC and currently serves as a legislative assistant for State Representative Jake Wheatley.

What are the key components of her platform?

Rogers is strongly committed to the idea of equity in the school system. “We see a disconnect between the greatest need and where the resources are going,” says Rogers, who believes that vulnerable children need extra supports like quality after-school and summer programs and access to special education and counseling. She is also a strong proponent of career and technical-training. “Not every child in the Pittsburgh Public Schools is going to be able to go to college,” she says. “We need to make sure that as soon as they’re out of school, they can walk right into that first job.”

What does she see as a major challenge facing PPS?

With her background serving adjudicated youth, Rogers sees the achievement gap as one of the most important challenges in the district. “Some of the kids I would see on probation were teenagers and couldn’t read yet. They were so embarrassed by it,” says Rogers, who believes that overcoming that achievement gap needs to begin early with free mandated pre-K and extra supports for the children who need them most.

Kevin Carter, candidate for District 8

Kevin Carter is the youngest school board candidate at only 26 years old. He lives in Manchester and attended PPS as a child. At age 19 Carter founded the Adonai Center for Black Males, a nonprofit that facilitates the transition of at-risk young men from high school to college and then college to the workforce. Carter is also an Eagle Scout and volunteers with many non-profits and social organizations. Carter has the endorsement of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

What are the key components of his platform?

Carter advocates for building partnerships with local community groups, museums, universities and other organizations that could bring valuable educational resources into our classrooms. But he also believes the district must eliminate the “bureaucracy” that keeps these organizations from having access to schools. He is a strong proponent of student engagement within the school district, particularly at the administrative level where he thinks students should have an advisory role. In terms of the district’s budget, he proposes reducing administrative overhead and reallocating resources to the classroom and the teachers.

What does he see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Because of his age and his experience at the Adonai Center, Carter believes he is uniquely positioned to understand the plight of African American males within the district. “I see these kids slipping through the cracks,” says Carter. “Only 18% of African American males graduate with the Promise. That means only 82% of these males have at least a 2.5 GPA and a 90% attendance.” He has a long-sighted view of the societal effects of this challenge. “When these guys get lost in the system,” says Carter. “We end up paying for it in the legal system. We end up paying for it in the social services. If we could just make the investment early on, it would prevent it all.”

Rosemary Moriarty, candidate for District 8

Rosemary Moriarty lives in Central Northside, graduated from PPS and raised two children in PPS. Moriarty has extensive experience in the district, previously serving as a teacher, dean of students, vice principal and principal. Though she retired in 2008, Moriarty continues to volunteer with numerous organizations including the Homeless Children Education Fund Board, Hill District Education Council Board and the Children’s Museum Board.

What are the key components of her platform?

Of all the school board candidates, Moriarty expressed the most commitment to her own individual district citing school closures, lack of equity in funding and a disproportionate number of charter schools. “I think that District 8 has been hurt more than many others by an inability to articulate our needs and to develop a plan cooperatively,” says Moriarty. Though she acknowledges that budgetary cuts will probably be necessary, she wants to ensure that District 8 has a voice in that process. Moriarty is also a strong proponent of increasing community involvement in the schools and providing quality after-school programming.

What does she see as a major challenge facing PPS?

Moriarty regrets the loss of traditional neighborhood schools and the resulting effects on children. “An increasing number of children have to travel to get to their assigned schools,” says Moriarty. “As a result, parental involvement in schools goes down and kids in the neighborhood don’t know each other. They don’t walk to school together. They don’t play together. They don’t grow up together.” She also notes the neighborhood schools suffer too, since less students means smaller resource allocations and an increased chance of closures or consolidations.

If you’re a resident of one of these districts, we encourage you to take what you learned in this article and get out there and vote on May 19th. Not sure where you vote? Find your polling place here. Want to meet these candidates in person? A+ Schools and the League of Women Voters are holding a citywide school board candidate forum on Wednesday, May 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hillman Auditorium at 1825 Centre Ave. The event is free and childcare will be provided. Want more detailed candidate profiles? Visit A+ Schools’ candidate guides.

This article was written by Nadine Champsi with contributions by Katy Rank Lev. 

Featured photo: Allegheny Traditional Academy, Photo by Kate Buckley

Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi is an MD turned write-at-home Pittsburgh mom with two lovely children.