Hoping to dispel a rumor that the closure of Wilkinsburg Middle and High School is imminent, district officials announced the school will be open for the 2015-2016 school year.
Beyond that, the district is still examining options. The struggling district is dealing with declining enrollment and has had funding issues as more students enroll in charter schools.
“Please do not assume just because I mentioned that we’re open next year, you’d assume we would be closed the following year,” said Superintendent Dan Matsook. “[It’s a] possibility, but there’s some more fact-finding that has to be done before we can make a commitment.”
As far as the district’s finances go, Matsook said things are looking up. The district had a negative $4 million fund balance in 2013; now it has a fund balance of $5.3 million. That money has to be used, or given back to the state with penalties. So, the district has decided to use it to upgrade its elementary schools.
“If we’re going to make an investment in Wilkinsburg School District, let’s start at the foundation,” said Matsook. “Let’s start with the elementary students in our neighborhood right now.”
By investing in elementary schools, Matsook said it will help ensure academically strong feeder students should they end up going to another district. Recent reports have been that Wilkinsburg is trying to get outside districts to take on middle and high school students, and that Penn Hills and Woodland Hills rejected them. Matsook said that is not the case.
“I’m here to tell you that the purpose of those meetings was for us not to go to these entities and say, ‘Will you take our students?’ Our purpose was to sit down and say, ‘What would be some of the concerns? What would be the hurdles? What would we need to work out? What do we need to work out? What do you think about this? What questions do you have of us? What can we get back to you with?'”
Matsook said the district is looking for a partner, not just a place to send their students, and he said, Wilkinsburg students deserve equal education opportunities afforded to neighboring districts.
“We’re not just looking for anybody to take us on,” he said. “We need an entity, a partner that is going to provide more options, many more options – curriculum, activities, sports what have you than what you can offer. If you can’t offer more diversity than what we have, we’re not interested.”
Matsook said discussions continue with several possible partners, and nothing is off the table at this point. Wilkinsburg school officials are holding a public evening Thursday night to discuss the district’s past, present and future. Going forward, Matsook said officials will create a timeline for decision-making, complete fact-finding of options and continue to engage with the public.