| Opinion/The Review

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials — and the teachers union — don't get it

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Letters home ...

Traveling abroad for personal, educational or professional reasons?

Why not share your impressions — and those of residents of foreign countries about the United States — with Trib readers in 150 words?

The world's a big place. Bring it home with Letters Home.

Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

Daily Photo Galleries

By Joseph Sabino Mistick=
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Imagine some strange time warp, in which the captain of the Titanic decided to throw a line to the Lusitania, even as both ships were sinking. That's pretty much like the board of education of Pittsburgh Public Schools considering a partnership with the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Both are sinking ships. And events last week underscored the calamitous finances that have placed both in jeopardy. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced in Pittsburgh that his office will audit the school district to help find ways to avoid bankruptcy, which could come as soon as 2016.

And Common Pleas Court Judge Lawrence O'Toole accepted the recommendation of the court-appointed conservator that the August Wilson Center be sold after finding no financial solution to the center's crushing debt. If there is a glimmer of hope, it comes from the judge's decision that no sale take place without a court order.

While emotional support for the center abounds, the prospect of the school board participating in a financial rescue is a staggering example of good intentions gone awry. When a weak swimmer tries to save a drowning friend, both might perish, as stronger swimmers remain on the shore, discouraged from attempting their own rescue.

And the school board has other problems, from turning away cash buyers for abandoned school buildings to refusing to close and consolidate underutilized schools. In December, Superintendent Linda Lane presented a plan to cut the district's doomsday deficit by cutting costs throughout the district, requiring hard choices for the politicians on the board.

Lane proposed closing as many as 10 schools, cleaning classrooms on a staggered schedule, using public transit for most students, shrinking the central staff, eliminating intramural sports and cutting many vacant positions. But the board failed its very first test, balking at the recommendation to close the smallest school in the district, which serves a mere 110 students.

And the teachers union, like the school board, doesn't appear to get it either. The district received a $40 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant four years ago to improve teaching here because the board and the union had shown they could work together. But that has ended.

What remains of the Gates money could now be yanked, along with millions in federal dollars, over what the district calls “performance indicators” and the union calls “cut scores.” The district would retrain teachers who scored less than 150 out of 300 possible points. The union fears teacher dismissals, even though most parents would ground their children for a score that dismal.

Compounding this problem is the presence of staff from the national American Federation of Teachers, using Pittsburgh to serve its national agenda without regard for the children of this city.

Auditor General DePasquale, a Pennsylvanian with local ties, should be welcomed with open arms and the operatives from the national teachers union should be told to go home, sent packing back to Washington or wherever. This is a town that settles its own problems.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Steelers cut Scobee, sign free agent kicker Boswell
  2. Burnett pitches well in farewell, but Pirates lose to Reds
  3. Are Pirates better positioned to win it all this postseason?
  4. New book credits Nunn for Steelers’ 1970s success
  5. Kessel addition, better health could have Pens scoring like it’s 1990s
  6. Pitt holds off Virginia Tech in ACC opener
  7. Pirates fans on edge as season again coming down to wild card
  8. Penguins at a glance entering 2015-16 season
  9. Shaler man charged in death of girl, 6, not prosecuted in repeated alcohol cases
  10. Starting 9: How can the Pirates catch the Cardinals in the future?
  11. Would-be Troy Hill carjackers scared off by sirens