Monthly Archives: May 2012

285 School Layoff Notices Go Out Early


“Knowledge is power,” or so they say. Well, power to the people

About 3 percent of the notices went to teachers with 10 or more years of service, including some in career and technology education fields. About 3 percent went to those with one year or less of service.

The largest number of notices went to elementary-certified teachers in kindergarten through sixth grade: 83, or 29 percent, of the notices. Among them are teachers who have a little more than seven years of service. (P-G, Eleanor Chute)

Do we have a plan for managing this unique adversity to our youngest people, aside from castigating Governor Tom Corbett? Will these layoffs amount to very much in the future of the present generation’s children? How will those affected weather the storm? Are there any moves we can make to soften these blows? Or to unify our communities around demonstrating that restoring taxpayer funding to urban primary education is worthwhile and appropriate? Did Superintendent Linda Lane and PFT president Nina Esposito-Visgitis bond in Cincinatti? Is either the labor community or the foundation community in Pittsburgh happy fighting with each other?

Public Housing and Public-Private Constables for Public Safety


As long as we’re waiting…

“If it’s borne out that there was overbilling, that’s clearly something that has to be addressed and addressed quickly,” said Mr. Lamb, whose office oversees the authority. (P-G, Rich Lord)

The accounting-for-our-chainsaws angle is of course very important, but are we not also dealing with a fundamental Separate but Equal issue? Is that embedded in some way within the possible legal snafu?

Loading…

Memorial Day Weekend Schools Roundup


A little busy preparing to garland passionless mounds — and perhaps attending a couple barbecues — to put out the piece on teacher furloughs and Value-Added Measures you may have been lead to believe would be appearing today. Check back Tuesday, when more people traffic the blog anyway and this heat may have finally lifted.

Meanwhile, as a reminder / preview of still other issues facing Our School District, here are some links culled from the main online public schools forum hereabouts, PURE Reform.


A $500,000 contract for what is now a favored consultant, Success Schools, to help run King, Faison and Milliones.

School desegregation, which according to a New York Times article is “one tool that has been shown to work.”

7:11 AM start times for many school students debated, in light of some research showing young people aren’t at their best before the sun is higher in the sky.

Also within a fresh comment here from “PPS Parent”: “I’d love to see you do a story on the # of administrative employees in our decreasing student population district.” Easier said than done, but will try. The District says all of the RISE, VAM and other evaluative efforts thus far are furnished via targeted grant money: $90 million worth, for six years of it. Hard to believe there are not other costs being picked up by taxpayers, but will try to get a handle on the trajectory of general administrative overhead.

Finally, I’m continuing to hear conflicting accounts about whether these highfallutin’ evaluations are being used to determine merit pay in the current contract. A+ Schools says yes, the PFT recently corrected that with an unequivocal “No,” but the District insists yes, it’s being used for what they call “Rewards and Recognition” — $1.3 millions’ worth they claim has already been disbursed to teachers based on RISE and VAM. Again, grant money, but it’s in the contract. A contract forged between another Superintendent and another union president.

Happy Decoration Day!

Carrying Water: D.A. Zappala Tired of Getting Dumped On


Convicted former senator Jane Orie might be made to pay $1.3 million to the Senate Republican Caucus for services rendered thanks to District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who is only getting started on Joan Orie Melvin.

[Zappala] said there has “never been any relationship in any respect with the Ories until such time as a complaint was filed with the attorney general” by an intern in Jane Orie’s district office who said she witnessed political work.

“Why are you carrying the water for people who are under indictment?” Mr. Zappala asked a reporter. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Clearly we are again approaching that Awkward Zone surrounding issues which once were artfully described as having to do with “an informal network of people whose businesses make millions providing services to government, while some simultaneously play roles in politics.”

The Orie sisters are accused of, and it seems by now (one blogger’s ill-informed opinion!) guilty of, bad things: electioneering crassly and brazenly with taxpayer staff and taxpayer resources. The sorts of things we call “corruption” and for which we are typically contented to see justice done and careers end.

So huzzah for justice in this instance!

##

However, the horror-show possibility is this: how is Sally Punchclock to be assured that what the Ories did, politicians don’t in fact do on a regular basis? Wouldn’t it be awful if the District Attorney and other applicable prosecutors had thick files (or at least solid leads) on everybody in public office from Jim Ferlo to Luke Ravenstahl to Mark Brentley, and are simply declining to investigate and prosecute as a matter of professional courtesy and deference to voters?

That is, until such time as those politicians make themselves inimical to the prosecutor’s own interests?

For you see, the real story two years ago did not lie in the twelve names listed in this “network”. It lay in the 13th name which did not appear. The one which, if it had been included, would have made for a 4th Zappala.

In this fantastic nightmare scenario, while some in the Network do business with government offices and others in the Network help government officials achieve and remain in power, this 13th member would occupy that singular office which would ordinarily be called upon to police hanky-panky between all the rest — and judiciously look the other way. And occasionally as needed, protect the whole device from without or above, as when a rogue legislator tries to investigate or prosecute by unorthodox means.

This is what many mean by the wishy-washy phrase “the appearance of conflict of interest,” and why some insist it is damaging to public confidence and to-be-avoided all in itself.

I remember speaking to a good friend regarding the tone of old blog posts I’ve done touching on aspects of the Zappala network. She said, “Yeah, but it’s difficult with family,” warning that one can’t assume what’s going on within other people’s families, or how individual family members feel about other family members and their private business. In fact she implied it’s usually pretty complicated.

I can now respect what I can’t know and shouldn’t assume. But the question of “Why are you carrying water for people under indictment?” answers itself: because we honestly don’t know, but we have brains for conjuring and have watched enough HBO drama to know what life can be like on the level of dragons.

##

The hypothesis isn’t defamatory if any reasonable person might assume it all by themselves simply by strolling past.

Was the District Attorney simply following up on a random tip arriving from the state AG’s office — and then happened to hit the Triple Jackpot? Or did he one day proclaim, “I have had it up to here with these @#$% Ories in this @#$% state!”, and then rifle through the dusty old Trouble Bin until he could find a likely entryway through which to hurl all the resources of his office (and others’ offices) for several years?

We could ordinarily explore and vet these issues and how much we really care about them through the prism of elections. Yet although he is standing for reelection this year, Zappala’s challenger, from either political party, is just like the 13th name on that chart. There isn’t one where you might expect it to be.

So we’re all just going to live with these awkward moments, half-formed allegations, and imperfect confidences in government for the rest of our lives. Unless Rich Lord gets indicted for something. Then I suppose we’ll all know for sure.

Wednesday: A Fool’s Errand


MEANWHILE, AT THE HALL OF LABOR…

Eleven people were arrested Downtown this morning after blocking traffic at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street while protesting proposed cuts to public education funding near Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pittsburgh office… Most of the protesters were members of SEIU Local 32BJ. (P-G, Jon Schmitz; see also Trib)

Traffic congestion and street theater in Pittsburgh! That will teach those conservative Republicans. Actually wait — they have a plan prepared for us.

The mayor said Tuesday he has had “good discussions” with a number of retailers and brokers at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas this week as part of the city’s bid to improve Downtown retail… Joanna Doven, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said the URA is paying for the trip. She did not have an exact cost Tuesday. (P-G, Mark Belko)

See? Just so you’re aware that SEIU aren’t the only ‘burghers fighting for justice.

A year after PNC Financial Service Group announced plans to build a $400 million skyscraper Downtown, another office tower could be in the works less than a block away.

Oxford Development Co. is considering the construction of an office high-rise in the block of Smithfield Street between Forbes and Fifth avenues if it can find a tenant to partner in the venture. (P-G, Mark Belko)

What does Pittsburgh think about that?

Around this time next year, we will probably see three work sites Downtown with towering scaffolding and giant cranes busy, our still-new hockey arena with elements of the Hill District Master Plan in the works, Bakery Square 2.0 coming along in the East End, crime down seven years running, our eds and meds content as ever, state officials obediently whistling past our financial time bomb and the fountain shooting off at the Point. Cherubim and seraphim are in the early planning stages.

[smash cut]


Councilman Peduto To Be Named Common Cause PA’s “Champion of Good Government 2012” (2PJ’s Maria)

“This is the first time since 2009 that this statewide recognition has been awarded,” according the press release. Checks are to be made payable to “William Peduto Champion of Good Government Committee”.

We are delighted to have the opportunity to bestow this special award on an extraordinary public servant, whose tireless efforts to reform Pittsburgh city government have elevated the city’s standards for open, honest and accountable government to previously unseen levels.

The package of government integrity laws enacted under Bill’s leadership may be the most far-reaching the city has seen since the dawn of home rule 35 years ago.

This truly will be a special evening for an exceptional leader. (Press release)

Gotta get a look at that bill of particulars, assuming they wrote one. It appears there will be no turning back on this front now.

Merit-Based Teacher Retention Worth Exploring, Probably Not a Neoconservative Plot


The scene on Tueday was just exactly as described in the P-G and at EPR.

And like any other protest. Sure, this gang had the pavilion and the stage at Schenley Plaza, but they also had a bullhorn and a chanting, fired up, diverse crowd of about a hundred. Eleven speakers from various organizations and communities delivered remarks.

“We love great teaching, don’t we?” asked Carey Harris, director of the nonprofit advocacy group A+ Schools. Warming up the crowd.

“Are these teachers worth fighting for?” she asked — and then received.

The teachers being cheered on are those newer city school employees who have seemingly demonstrated great and/or broad merit, by some evaluative methodology. In the event of teacher layoffs — of which there shall certainly be some, soon — under the current contract between Pittsburgh Public Schools and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers 400, only the most senior of employees will have a chance to stay on.

Many “Keep Pittsburgh’s Best Teachers” rally speakers agreed that seniority was a very, very important factor indeed in employment considerations.

Most argued to the effect that winning state budget cuts back from the sadly misguided Gov. Tom Corbett, his austerity-mad Republicans, and their packs of giant spiders is also of acute importance.

All assembled however were passionately adamant that in the present moment, seniority itself ought not stand alone. And begged the stakeholders to consider merit.

##

Esther Bush from the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis of Mt. Ararat. Lutual Love of the Anti-Bullying committee and Bully Police USA. Wanda Henderson, the AAASPS. Hey, is that Sala from CORO in the front row?

Wow, there are a lot of African Americans here! A little more than half, probably!

Meanwhile, over at the intense schools blog:

Is this a African-American movement issuing a decree to our schook [sic] system. How many African-American adults will be furloughed? (PURE Reform, Questioner)

Slow down, Jack. “Issuing a decree” is an awfully loaded term, good for using when one is suddenly and embarrassingly on the defensive about something. But it only stands to reason. This is Pittsburgh Public Schools. Who else in the flibbertigibbit would you expect to be passionately alarmed about our urban public schools system? Cultural minorities are not enrolling at Oakland Catholic or The Ellis School in any great numbers. They’re in the majority in the public School District. It can be difficult for some White residents to apprehend this, as their public school youngsters are hardly fed in to some of the majority Black schools at all.

One can see how there is an anxiety about who the District can manage to “put in front of their children” at these schools, at any schools. Many desire informed decisions to be made to retain the best of the best teaching personnel on an ongoing basis, while continuing to weight seniority heavily.

The message was clear, because it was obvious.

“We have an evaluation system we can use. It was developed by administration and teachers. These tools are being used. [It is in the present] collective bargaining agreement.”

A repeated coup de gras. A major component of the evaluation framework — called “RISE” — has for the last couple years thanks to the last round of union negotiations been used to determine merit pay. Why not some merit retentions?

The speakers were relentless.

“80% say RISE is fair.”

“Extremely impressive, brave, collaborative efforts of the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. Everyone wants to elevate what we’re doing in Pittsburgh.”

“We’re just putting our heads in the sand.”

“I believe this is a fight for a reason.”

That last, from a child, ominously. Uh oh.

##

“Unions are very sensitive to public opinion,” former City Council member et al Sala Udin explained to the Comet afterwords. “They want to be seen as an effective institution for public education.”

But isn’t this union-busting? A ill-faith distraction from Gov. Corbett’s proposed cuts? A stalking horse for privatization — vouchers and charters?

“I think that is a danger that has been represented largely by the unions,” replied Udin. “They see every threat as a ‘break the union’ threat. There are many people here who support the union including myself.”

At the rally, Bush was especially complimentary of teachers’ unions and the PFT’s “contributions to equality.”

Nonetheless, she was ruthless on the need to “put kids first.”

Harris offered more recently in an e-mail to the Comet:

The PFT holds all of the cards in this situation, so I think they are in a good position to scope out a solution that is fair to their members while also putting their best teachers in front of our students. We’ve just posted … a few examples of potential solutions we hope they will consider: http://bit.ly/Jo15vA

According to another source, the union wasn’t even coming to the table as of Wednesday. Of course that was before their internal elections. Congratulations to Nina Esposito-Visgitis et al.

##

My friends, in the immediate shadow of Pittsburgh Westinghouse, Pittsburgh Obama featuring half of the Schenley Spartans by way of Bakery Square 2.0, and University Prep 6-12 at Milliones, fighting merit retention dismissively and on modestly trumped-up ideological grounds is bad for labor, bad for Pittsburgh, and probably bad for the students. The PFT should at least want to experiment with retaining “great” teachers, even if it has not become a perfect science.

Those newbie teachers are in the union too. A little solidarity for attempted rock stardom is in order.

So how about only the top “ranked” 5% of teachers — the truly and frighteningly exquisite — get to remain on board despite furloughs and despite seniority, until further notice?

Something along those lines? Something.

We are collecting so much data — subjective and otherwise. It cannot all be completely worthless.

Hopefully, the foundations, parents and community members (White, African-American and other) and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will persuade public school teachers to seek out something they can work with, declare a victory, and then bring to the old negotiating table for ratification.

On the flip side of that coin, it would be exquisite for example if those community activists could in turn be persuaded that state vouchers and subsidized privatization erode support for public education — and be persuaded to be outspoken in that regard in the general direction of Philadelphia. Though that’s asking a lot of some of them.

##

In the meanwhile, what exact data do we have?

Oy vey. There’s no denying it: it’s a jumble.

There are three components to the current ideal conceptual framework: the Research-Based Inclusive System of Evaluation (RISE) Value-Added Measurements (or VAMs) and strategically designed student surveys.

RISE, which we are already using for merit pay, consists of rankings in 24 components (pdf) such as “demonstrated knowledge of content and pedagogy,” “creating a learning environment of respect and rapport,” “organizing physical space”, “communicating with students, “engaging students in learning,” “demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness,” “implementing lessons equitably”, “communicating with families”, “showing professionalism.”

It scores these in descending order as distinguished, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory.

There are guidelines for these in each component. The guidelines are pleasantly, clearly and surprisingly binary — at least in concept.

But a cause for hesitation among teachers is the possible intrusion of subjectivity by the evaluators. Another is capriciousness. Finally there is plain old budget-driven over-zealousness to weed out anybody who has become expensive.

Another blog post has sprung up over there, based around:

Breaking the Silence is the first empirical report of the actual experiences of abused teachers; that is, what constitutes principal mistreatment and its impact on teachers and their work. (Chicago Union Teacher, May 2003 ) Blase and Blase sound the alarm on principals’ mistreatment of teachers, and begin the important work of finding constructive solutions. (PURE Reform, Anonymous Comenter)

There is an administrative practiced called, “focusing,” which the District and its partners can employ on teachers who are deemed to need some extra attention. Or any attention, it would be expensive to focus on everybody at once. Nonetheless, the bullied teachers phenomenon is probably an issue worthy of due consideration.

I would be more worried about the fact of who is making those decisions, and how.

This gets us over to “the Teaching Institute” at Brasher and King, the Clinical Resident Instructors or CRI’s and the almighty IQA-C (pdf, or document library).

And remember — this is all just RISE. One component of the triad. There are also the Value Added Measures (spoiler: infinite loop) and the Tripod student survey. Though these are not presently baked into the collective bargain, may not actually be out of the oven quite yet, and we may be encountering a dearth of yeast.

How much is this all costing, anyway? Costing everyone?

Investigations continue.

Can aspects of the different evaluation methods still be combined roughly as originally envisaged? Would that even be cost-effective for the District and the philanthropic community anymore? Can something sufficiently vetted be implemented in time for the state budget cuts, even if all goes well with the union? What if in the age of merit retention, a sterling veteran teacher gets dealt a bad hand one year during a “crucial” year and misses the cutoff? Do we have enough semesters and years of RISE data to make high-value decisions?

What happens if we flatly refuse to explore merit? What happens next?

Finally, is there anything besides the Promise and teacher development we should be investing in? Healthy breakfasts? Humane starting times? Freeing up teachers to teach in other ways?

The Race for the Mayoralty (and the Clock)


How is the old Mayor doing, anyway?

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will sign the bill, his spokeswoman, Joanna Doven, said. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Another day, another passage. Things have the appearance of proceeding adroitly.

“We must put what’s in the best interest of our children’s education first before seniority,” said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for the mayor. (CT via Trib, Bill Zlatos)

That probably plays nicely enough in Overbrook.

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority voted 6-1 to approve a contract of up to $250,000 with Ohio-based MS Consultants, which will study problematic watersheds and make flood-prevention recommendations.

Mr. Dowd pleaded with colleagues to reject the contract but was the only one to vote against it. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Does not seem to have mushroomed into anything that would negatively affect such necessary work.

##

When was the last time we all got upset with our incumbent, anyway?

Was it Snowmageddon? One thing next year that I will have remembered three years ago about Snowmageddon: there was a lot of snow.

Was it the proposed parking lease? If so, was it simply the lease deal with LAZ/JPMorgan or was it the year-end game of chicken with the pension fund? It all turned out fine, though. Right? The City still has a certain debt-and-pension-obligation monkey on its back — but for now we’re mostly agreed that we’re fine. We seem fine.

Gov. Tom Corbett, the recession and a legacy of contraction are applying the main squeeze. What can we be expected to do about finding more loose millions to pave more streets, deal with abandoned property, fix up parks and provide other amenities, anyway?

We borrowed some money. We were welcome to it.

Unless… uh-oh, here it comes…

BREAKINGNEWS!

Andrew M. Lee, [embattled] owner of Executive Cigars at East and Suismon streets, showed photographs of what he called notable patrons in the shop, including comedian Eddie Griffin, jazz drummer Roger Humphries, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and a smiling Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in the retail section of the shop. (Trib, Bob Bauder)

Care of Guy Manningham:

Looks like a Mayor posing for a picture with a small business owner in his part of town. Splendid. Try as I might, I could not come up with any photos including lit cigars, stacks of cash, $800 bottles of champagne, cronies, showgirls, and that ridiculous fedora.

##

That’s the story of Mayor Ravenstahl. Wait — what’s that you say?

Let’s review some of the particulars — all known to Pittsburghers — that refute the mayor’s assumed virtues.

Civic-mindedness? He has a reputation for fulfilling his duties casually. He manages to attend the fun events — the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the press conference for the Batman movie — but for some of the everyday stuff he is AWOL. Even the county executive-elect, a Democrat no less, said so.

Pragmatism? He wasn’t so pragmatic when he went to Seven Springs to celebrate his birthday in 2010 while a blizzard was on its way and Snowmageddon paralyzed the city.

Vision? Yes, but it seems limited to his election campaign two years hence.

Tenacity? If it means stubbornness in sticking to bad decisions, we’ll give him that.

Helping to lead a transformation of the economy? That’s news to us. (P-G, Editorial Flaying)

And supposedly,

“Empirically, his approval rating has hovered really around 19 to 20 percent which probably isn’t terribly flattering,” says John Dick, CEO of the company. (KDKA Aug. ’11)

Clearly, le Resistance lives on.

##

So who would try to wrest dominion over the Forks of the Ohio away from Ravenstahl?

Bill Peduto?

Arguably, though, the biggest winners [in local May 2012 primaries] were Matt Merriman-Preston — who managed both the Gainey and Molchany campaigns — and the politician for whom Merriman-Preston acts as field marshal: city councilor Bill Peduto. Last night’s results showed that voters across the city are ready for new faces and a progressive message — the same message Peduto will no doubt campaign on during his likely run against Mayor Luke Ravenstahl next year. The outcomes also suggested that the old guard’s grip on power is increasingly arthritic. (CP, Chris Potter)

Most likely he’ll try.

“Because I’m a bad politician. Good public servant … ba-a-a-a-d politician.” (CP, Chris Potter 3/07)

Time would need to be called upon to tell if that has changed. Since that conversation, Peduto will have brought to Ravenstahl six years of near-relentless dissent, in votes and words. Being now the senior member of Council, the public record is long and reasonably varied. That recent city-center redevelopment vote could be considered an archetypal pitfall arising from amassing such an involved paper trail. The occasion on which he urged for state takeover of the pension fund could be another.

Michael Lamb?

The city of Pittsburgh finished last year in better financial shape than it did 2010, but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl shouldn’t get credit for that, Controller Michael Lamb said Tuesday in releasing the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

Most likely he’ll try. But that’s the thing about Lamb: for just as long, he has enjoyed the luxury of being able to position his jabs.

On the funding side, it is disappointing to see that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s 2012 budget takes a huge step backward. The annual pension benefit paid out to current retirees is in excess of $80 million. The mayor’s proposal to reduce payments to the pension fund in 2012 is both irresponsible and misguided. (P-G, Michael Lamb)

Positioning. The question for him is: do cagey subtlety and technocratic prescriptions translate to mayoral politics? What is the music of the yearnings of his heart?

Jack Wagner?

“I’ll be giving it a lot of thought over the next year,” Mr. Wagner said. “I live in Pittsburgh. I love Pittsburgh. I think we have tremendous resources here, and I don’t think we’re managing those resources wisely.” (P-G, James O’Toole)

Possibly, but I can’t see it. If he is seriously thinking about running, we would start hearing more from his circles quickly.

Is there anybody else? Darlene Harris? Likelier not. Patrick Dowd? The word is, no. Hop Kendrik? Never sleep on it. Corey O’Connor? Can you imagine? “Bugger all. Thank you for keeping my throne warm, now, get out.”

So it looks like we’ll have a heated two- or three-person race. Perhaps four, but then again as soon as we reach four contenders another five will leap out of the woodwork to join the ribald California Recall circus. Whatever the field, do not anticipate the Ravenstahl administration to undertake anything too drastically controversial on the City’s behalf before the primary next year — this is Luke’s race to lose.

After all, the city is afloat on an even keel and crime is down six years running.

Urban Redevelopment, the Race and the Clock


This is always most complex.

The City last week diverted the next five years worth of parking tax revenues from certain new Hill District parking lots (not to exceed $2 million) from the City’s general fund to the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Sports and Exhibition Authority, for use in projects related to what appears in the Hill District Master Plan.

Initially:

Councilman Bill Peduto said he supports Hill District redevelopment, but he thinks Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow Council to divert parking tax revenue like this. (EPR, Noah Brode)

That heated argument did not make it to the final round, perhaps having to do with this measure’s similarity to the Pittsburgh’s notable 2010 State Pensions Takeover Avoidance Act, of which all Council members were supporters.

Yet at final action,

Mr. Lavelle, Mr. Burgess, council President Darlene Harris, Patrick Dowd, Theresa Kail-Smith and Corey O’Connor voted for the bill. Voting no were Bruce Kraus, Bill Peduto and Natalia Rudiak, who had expressed concern with using legislation to allocate parking tax money to a specific neighborhood.

“It strays away from our usual capital budget process,” she said. Ms. Rudiak said she would, however, be willing to vote for a capital budget amendment that allocates money to Hill District projects. (P-G, Joe Smydo)

In other words, she is saying there is a time and a place for neighborhood groups to ask for limited City resources for special projects — and it is done all at once, at the end of the year, so we can prioritize needs across town, in a political process, so that everyone who manages to be in power gets a fair cut of the action.

Which is normally fine, if you discount the great drama surrounding Pittsburgh’s Hill District and the hope that it provides alongside Downtown. I must say I am deeply impressed that the Hill is now by so many being considered a special and unifying priority — both for its past involving a now-demolished arena, and out of recognition of its recent arduous campaign for direct benefits in conjunction with its new arena. A cause which once brought African-Americans and organized labor powerfully together.

##

But let’s take a look at what is in today’s Greater Hill District Master Plan, whose existence, purposes, processes and funding were provided in that 2008 Community Benefits Agreement. At a glance it foresees:

Those 20 general categories house such things such as signage, a community newsletter, a trail, a history center, historic preservation, education programs, a neighborhood watch, homeowner and tenant support, a “housing innovation zone” and other housing programs, a vacant property strategy, workforce development, a business incubator, Center Avenue economic development, green spaces, urban agriculture, play spaces, transportation, streetscape improvement, a street grid for mixed use development in the Lower Hill, apparently still a deck over the Crosstown Expressway, a pedestrian-friendly expanded residential corridor at Crawford Street, transit-oriented development Uptown, a revived Bedford Avenue residential corridor, something that takes advantage of the great views atop the hill while transitioning from high-rise public housing, an inviting gateway at Kirkpatrick Street, an amphitheater, new stairs, a Herron Ave. commercial corridor towards Oakland, more mixed use development, and improvements at Robert Williams Memorial Park.

For that, we are bringing $400,000 per year to the table for five years.

To give some perspective, it is costing $1.3 million simply to “stabilize” the New Granada Theater, which would one day contribute towards some of that material. Things cost serious money. This master plan looks like it could consume many hundreds of millions of dollars.

##

So with the pittance the City has brought to the table, what comes first? Will it go to more planners, consultants, and designers in anticipation of those bigger-ticket items way down the road? Will it go directly to entrepreneurs bearing sound-seeming and strategically relevant business plans? To non-profit and social entrepreneurs?

As provided in the community benefits agreement, the Master Plan was guided by a steering committee. It included folks from many different government offices as well as One Hill, the Hill EDC, the Hill District Consensus Group, Crawford Square Homeowners, Uptown Partners, the Ujaama Collective and some clergy.

However, this wide-open and neighborhood-inclusive body’s determinative role would seem to be at an end.

The city’s contribution will be determined by the URA and the SEA, and the relatively few politicians who constitute them. These folks and their staffs know something about market viability, urban design and project feasibility for sure. We also know that as institutions, these folks once reneged on lofty promises and short-shrifted community integration in such a comprehensive manner, it might well have been attributable to some sort of structural cognitive deficiency.

The Hill District seemed unified in wanting just that. So they’re getting it. Hopefully rolling the dice with The System will work out better this time. But Councilman Lavelle also made mention of this being a “down payment”, and this funding stream might not be all they require and the only way they require it.

What these policy commitments do not provide that the Dollar a Car campaign does are resources that can be used by Hill District residents and stakeholders as we see fit.

Fundamentally, the act of taking the Lower Hill with eminent domain was an act of violating our right to self-determination. The Dollar a Car Campaign, while not restoring order by any means, will at least be a resource that we can use for our own self-determination. (HDCG Front Page)

And video here, including a reality check involving a walkway and a statue.

That is what I’m talking about. The only sound reason to vote against these taxes being diverted for Hill development, would have been to leverage more greater funding streams being delivered, and in ways better suited to the need for community re-empowerment.

Yet even then, if the actual community could not be made keen on that political stratagem, drop it and fight the war on another day.

It is not always easy or natural to vote for something that comes from that other side of the hall, that goes to the URA, that has real imperfections or what have you. But “voted against Hill District redevelopment” has an oddly awful ring to it.

##

More in the series I’d hope soon…

Public Education, Redevelopment, the Race and the Clock


Alright. Where are we?

Under the district’s plan to furlough 450 teachers based on seniority, Faison School in Homewood would lose 21 of its 42 teachers; Manchester School would lose 10 of 26 teachers; Martin Luther King Accelerated Learning Academy in the North Side would lose 14 of 38 teachers; Arlington Acclererated Learning Academy would lose 12 of 33 teachers; Weil Accelerated Learning Academy in the Hill District would lose eight of 24 teachers; and Allegheny Traditional Academy in the North Side would lose seven of 30 teachers.

“We’re going to retain some of our most effective teachers, but we’re also going to furlough some of them,” Lane said. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Glancing at this once: Oh my! Pittsburgh is losing 450 jobs.

*-UPDATE: At the A+ Schools rally in Oakland on Tuesday (post forthcoming we would hope), this number descended from “400” to later on, “almost 400.”

Glancing at this again: Can we just move the teachers who do keep their jobs to other schools? I know Chris Rock said that if you find ever yourself teaching at Martin Luther King, run!!!!, but… if worse comes to worse, it doesn’t sound like the new merit-based framework is geared towards balancing individual school populations either.

Or was it? What’s the big idea?

As a result of cuts in funding for urban schools such as Pittsburgh’s — cuts so deep that the very bones of education bear the knife marks — our district will soon say goodbye to hundreds of teachers without so much as a glance at the data, at whether these teachers have been deemed “highly effective.”

This is devastating news at our foundations, where we have seen our $18 million and the Gates Foundation’s $40 million investment in creating a model for effective teaching just beginning to bear fruit. (Oliphant, Vagt and Behr at P-G)

What is the model named? Do we name it after its distinguishing designer or sponsor (e.g. “the Phil Lowenstein model”) or is it given a name to convey meaning (e.g. “Action for Happening”)? Is it just “the $50 million model which was supposed to be the $90 million model”? And much more to the point, what is it exactly?

It might well be worth raising a hue and a cry, trying to convince the PFT to work with it. Although that appears to be an uncertain proposition.

We might simply need to thank the administration and the School Board for kicking off the discussion on how best to deal with the massive public funding cuts that are upon us. If this wave of innovative thinking is politically non-implementable, it might be best to default to an austere “No Frills” position.

I’m not sure where else we can take refuge as a school district.

There, and maligning Harrisburg until it remembers that primary education is “important” in a special kind of way.