Did you know the Pittsburgh Public Schools budget is even bigger than the entire budget for the City of Pittsburgh? And it’s controlled by nine elected volunteers.
Four of the nine seats are up for a vote this May to be on the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and three of the seats have no incumbent. Many people don’t pay attention to these races, but with the amount of money they control, maybe you should.
Pittsburgh Public School Board meetings can last for hours, but that’s just the time we see the nine volunteer board members devote. There are meetings to prepare for the meetings and a lot of work behind the scenes.
While many people think school board business doesn’t affect them if they don’t have kids in the schools, it can. James Fogarty, Executive Director of A+ Schools, says, “The thing that I always remind people is, one, this is a common good. It leads to the success or failure of our region and our city. Two, it’s your tax dollars. I mean, this board can, and may, vote on a tax increase.”
A+ Schools advocates for improved Pittsburgh Public Schools. Fogarty believes the success of the region is tied directly to the success of the public schools, in attracting residents and development and providing the future workforce.
According to National Student Clearinghouse, only 31% of Pittsburgh Public School graduates go on to complete college or trade school within six years. Fogarty says while the district does better than many schools with similar demographics, the board has a lot of work to do to improve.
“We know younger folks, millennials, want to be in cities. So as they start having children, how do we make sure that they have schools that they want to be in?”
The school board is tasked with hiring the superintendent and then helping implement his or her vision. They’re responsible for a $646 million budget. That’s compared to $574 million for the city’s general fund.
Fogarty says the school board can “drive a lot of decisions that can either impact a neighborhood to the positive or the negative, and so you got to know who the candidates are and you got to start asking them questions now.”
A+ Schools asks the ten candidates questions and they provide answers online, on pamphlets and at a public forum April 24 at the Kaufman Center in the Hill District and also broadcast online and TV.
In the past few elections, only about 25% of registered voters voted for the school board. That’s about 20,000 people out of a population of 300,000.
“What we really want people to do is to (not only) understand who the candidates are, but understand the issues of inequity that we care about and ask questions that are related to those,” says Fogarty.
The deadline to register to vote in the May 21 election is April 22. Visit VoteSchoolBoardFirst.org for more information.