Council supports school system study
Pittsburgh City Council members on Tuesday backed Mayor Tom Murphy's plan to have a commission examine the city's public school system.
Council President Gene Ricciardi called for a commission that is not "elitist," but "reflective of the community," including teachers, students, parents, administrators and taxpayers.
The Pittsburgh Public Schools have been in the spotlight because of academic problems, high taxes and a rift in the school board. The commission is charged with studying the district's operations and to make recommendations for improvement, specifically in financial management, academic achievement and governance.
Council's vision parallels Murphy's intent for the commission to be "drawn from every part of this community."
Murphy announced the commission formation July 23, naming as co-chairmen David Matter, president and chief operating officer of Oxford Development Co., and William Trueheart, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. He will announce as many as 35 additional members by Aug. 14.
Council's resolution sought to specifically include taxpayers who may not have children in the city's schools but have an interest because of high school taxes they pay.
Ricciardi said high school taxes are causing people to move out of the city and into communities with better school systems.
"It really burns me up that people are moving out of the city," Councilman Bob O'Connor said. "Imagine if we had the best public school system: people would flock here."
Murphy formed the commission after the school district lost nearly $3.8 million in support from The Pittsburgh Foundation and two other philanthropies — the Heinz Endowments and the Grable Foundation — because of divisions between the school board's two factions and between its majority faction and Superintendent John Thompson.
O'Connor said parents, teachers, students, taxpayers and council members are fed up with the board's quarreling and inaction.
"Where it goes from here is entirely up to the school board," O'Connor said. "If the nine of them start working together, we win. Not we, our kids."
In a separate attempt to mend the situation, O'Connor and Councilman Alan Hertzberg called on the council last month to pass a resolution asking the state Legislature to expand the board from nine to 13 members, with four new members appointed by a 12-member commission.