Pittsburgh Public Education Advocacy Group Recruiting 'School Board Watchdogs'

Dec 2, 2013

The Pittsburgh Public School Board has four new members, the largest turnover for the group since 1999.

A+ Schools is calling on the public to help keep the board accountable. The public education advocacy group is seeking volunteers for the Board Watch Program.

“We think it’s important that the public is aware of what’s happening, what kinds of decisions the board is making and the manner in which they’re making them,” said A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris.

Volunteers are trained to watch school board meetings. They attend and complete and evaluation of their experience. That information is shared with A+ Schools, the public and the board itself. Harris said in the past, changes have been made thanks to watchdog feedback.

“The public hearings now occur after the board has set the agenda for the month,” Harris said. “So that means you find out what’s on the agenda at agenda review and you can testify about it at the agenda meeting, so that has increased transparency on the board. The agendas are now posted before meetings and they’re online.”

Board Watch members have a list they follow of indicators of effective board governance:

  • Focus and mission: board is focused on achieving its goals
  • Transparency: board processes are accessible to the public
  • Conduct: conduct is managed respectfully
  • Role Clarity: board provides policy leadership and oversight
  • Competency: board members are informed

“This is incredibly important and difficult work that the school board undertakes,” Harris said. “They have a bigger budget than the City of Pittsburgh to manage, and they have the futures of 25,000 children in their hands with every decision they make.”

Harris said the work of the watchdog group will be critical as the board tackles upcoming challenges including the budget, implementing new teacher and principal evaluations and changing the student code of conduct.