District to air ads touting Penn Hills High School

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 2:07 p.m.

“We have a doggone good school district here, and we want to let people know that we have a lot of really good things going on,” school board member Robert Hudak said.

Hudak, a former district teacher, was talking about the Penn Hills school board's decision to start an advertising campaign through a partnership with television station WTAE.

The board voted unanimously Jan. 14 to enter into a two-year agreement with the Wilkinsburg-based station at a cost of $3,500 per month.

The district will run 1,100 30-second commercials and will have a display ad on the WTAE-TV website with a direct link to the school's site.

While Hudak said he wanted to publicize the positive things the district is doing, he also admitted that the ad campaign “was to combat the number of students who are leaving for cyber or charter schools.

“Close to $8 million of our budget is going to charters, and that's a real problem,” he said.

In the 2011-12 school year, the district saw 741 students choose alternate education, a 52 percent jump from the previous school year, when 487 attended classes elsewhere.

About 815 students who could attend Penn Hills will get their education elsewhere in the 2013-14 school year, business manager Richard Liberto said.

“Potentially, we're hoping (the ads) will bring kids into the district,” Liberto said.

“But it's also to help bring kids back. Whatever we can do.”

Part of the student exodus is due to two new options in recent years for Penn Hills children: Redeemer Lutheran School, which purchased the former Shenandoah Elementary building and converted it into a campus for the private school, and the Imagine Penn Hills School of Entrepreneurship, which purchased the old William Penn Elementary to use as its building.

But the numbers have climbed steadily since 2008, before spiking in the 2010-11 school year.

Hudak said fighting negative perceptions about the school district can help the community as a whole.

“The school district is the key to success in a community,” Hudak said.

“When you're looking for a house, the first thing people look at is the school district. So we need to let people know about the positive things happening in the district and let them know their money is being well spent.”

The district recently cut the ribbon on a new senior high school, and is in the beginning stages of consolidating its existing elementary schools into another new building.

“We want to promote the new schools and to promote our district,” Liberto said.

School district officials are working with WTAE's production crew to conceptualize and shoot the advertisements, which Liberto said would begin running in late February.

“We're looking to run them for a period of about a year,” he said.

The school board's vote last week was to enter into a two-year agreement with WTAE.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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