Pittsburgh Public School Superintendent Linda Lane will discuss the district’s progress and future direction during her state of the district address Thursday evening. She said five key areas will be the focus: finance and enrollment, achievement, effectiveness, equity, and satisfaction. The district faces several challenges including declining enrollment and budget deficit, but Lane said rather than looking at the challenges, she is looking at opportunities for growth.
“We have three goals, one to increase the achievement of students, another is to close race-based academic disparities between our African-American students and other students in the district, the third is to become a district of first choice,” she said.
Becoming a district of choice, according to Lane, means a district that is fiscally sustainable, but also a district that offers schools parents want their children to attend.
“You can make a lot of reductions, but parents will say, ‘well wait a minute, I want my child to have athletics, I want my child to have art and music,’ so consequently the very things you’re reducing is what they’re looking for,” said Lane.
Building a budget
Reductions have been made district-wide, schools have been closed, class sizes increased, and students and other staff laid off. But it’s not enough. Lane has introduced a $521.8 million budget for next year that includes an operating deficit of $9.8 million. The district does have the money to fill the hole, thanks to the fund balance.
“The down side of that is it’s like living off your savings account, then ultimately you’re out of savings, and we will be out of savings in a couple of years and so the question and the challenge before us is how we address those budget issues in a way that doesn’t create schools that, frankly, have no appeal,” said Lane.
Though no school closures are planned for the next school year, Lane said that’s a possibility in the future as part of a comprehensive solution.
“I don’t believe that school closures are going to get us all the way there, I mean that’s not the whole solution, it can’t be. It’s going to have to be far more creative and complicated than just that.”
Closing the gap
Lane’s address comes the same week education watchdog group A+ Schools released a report, painting a not-so-rosy picture of the district. In particular the group cited the slow progress being made in closing the racial achievement gap. But, Lane said there was some good news for the district: 6th through 8th graders outperformed the state in reading.
“This year we had a better student retention rate than we’ve seen in five years, it was 99.3 percent and furthermore we had an 11 percent increase in our kindergarten students which was a bright spot for us,” said Lane.
Outside of trying to find financial solutions, Lane said other goals include better utilization of technology in the classroom, career and technology education, and looking beyond bricks and mortar buildings to online classrooms.
After her address Lane will take part in a panel discussion with Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise; Kiley Krizan, teacher and learning environment specialist; and Pam Little-Poole, a parent of Pittsburgh Public Schools students. The data discussed at the State of the District is district-wide. School-level data will be released in January.