Yearly Archives: 2015

PGH School Board hires Consultant named Perkins

Do you remember how Pittsburgh Public Schools’ superintendent is soon retiring?

Well here we go! A highfaluting academic is coming on to help the School Board select its #next one.

At the end of a public voting meeting last week, school director Regina Holley made a motion to hire the Perkins Consulting Group — headed by Brian Perkins, director of the Urban Education Leadership Program at Columbia University’s Teachers College — at a cost not to exceed $100,000. (P-G, Clarece Polk)

How that came about was…

Ms. Holley said she and Mr. Sumpter met Mr. Perkins at a conference for the Council of Urban Boards of Education in July and were “impressed with his credentials.” When Mrs. Lane announced in September her plans to retire in June, Ms. Holley recommended Mr. Perkins as a consultant in the superintendent search. (ibid)

It’s always refreshing to get a frank explanation. But now that he’s our Hundred Thousand Dollar Man, Pittsburgh needs to learn about him!

My favorite thing about his professional bio is that he served on a school board for 11 years. Yale doesn’t hurt, either. The focus on “urban education” is certainly relevant.

Leafing through some of his reports of surveys on school climate and parental perceptions, I got the impression that Mr. Perkins and his associates approach education from the “Left,” or as a liberal might.

It’s hard to explain. The educational Right focuses more on testing, discipline, efficiency and conviction. The educational Left puts a greater emphasis on communication, empathy, problem-solving and science.

So it appears the Pittsburgh School Board — on the heels of its own 3-member electoral sweep leftward – just made a bold move to turn the rudder.

The Comet’s only concern off the bat is whether Mr. Perkins has any particular expertise in conducting job searches. Maybe the School Board will contract with still another party to help with the nuts and bolts of human resources; all the better to segregate process from selectivity. Still, his credentials seem to fit that of a schools superintendent better than an executive headhunter.

Maybe he’s here to advise the next board more generally, at its outset.

Thanks to Ali Patterson for calling attention to some of the links on FB’s #OurSchoolsOurSuperintendent

POPULAR VOTE: Partisans Clash from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg on Election Day

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

It’s a balmy 76 degrees Fahrenheit in Pittsburgh, sunny without a cloud in the sky, humidity at 27% and the wind at one mile per hour. Maybe it’s just that it’s a little too nice and quiet out there.

If you have not voted yet, do that.

How are things looking on your end? Check back for headlines.

UPDATE: Democrats sweep all the statewide and Allegheny County judicial races. Republican Guy Reschenthaler wins the open senate seat to the south and west.

The Wilkinsburg Schools Annexation should focus everyone’s energies

It is obvious that Pittsburgh Public Schools did what was sadly necessary…

Board members [of the Wilkinsburg School District] say that giving up on the schools is the best thing they can do to give their students a shot at a better education and a better life. But two neighboring school districts declined to take the students on before a third, Pittsburgh Public Schools, found room at one of the city’s lowest-performing high schools, located in one of its poorest neighborhoods.

So in a deal approved this week, Wilkinsburg students are headed for a school that is much like the one they are leaving behind. (WaPo, Emma Brown)

…but now it gets really tricky.

Because in addition to ’the ordinary amount’ of “chaos and failure” prevalent in the educational vicinity…

Students from the two schools have long feuded, [a Wilkinsburg district mother]  said, and she worries about an eruption of violence when they’re all under one roof. (ibid)

More worrisome still, I would wager, if those students perceive that the adults around them either don’t have it together Continue reading

On Tuesday vote “DODO WECHT”, and Your Guide to Gerrymandering

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 7.48.04 PMTuesday is Election Day, and the bone-chillingly urgent contest is for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

You are going to want to vote for Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donahue and David Wecht. You can remember that by remembering the mnemonic device, “DODO WECHT“.

One reason this is so crucial is not only because those are the 3 Democrats in the hunt (crowd cheers!) but because of gerrymandering: the cutthroat process by which states determine how their congressional and legislative district boundaries will be drawn.

Here are the stakes:

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.19.22 PM

In Pennsylvania, Congressional districts are drawn as any ordinary law might be passed, and Legislative districts are drawn by a “commission” comprised mostly of legislative leaders (like the ICA!). But in both cases it often all comes down to the state Supreme Court.

The PA Supreme Court is a train wreck at the moment, with 3 vacancies Continue reading

As Financial Recovery winds down, Legislative caretakers getting greedy?

It’s not every day that suburban and rural Pennsylvanians demand more government.

But when the job was keeping taxes and fees low for commuters and other visitors to Pittsburgh, state legislators in 2004 couldn’t move fast enough to create a new authority with a vague mandate and sweeping powers that was largely redundant.

Special double financial oversight hasn’t been a total disaster. After a world-historic economic boom and bust, austerity measures born largely by city workers allowed Pittsburgh enough time to reclaim its riverfronts, better exploit its universities and achieve semblances of vibrancy, distinction and stability by the time city living came roaring back into vogue.

Pittsburgh has since demonstrated its readiness to emerge from its state-administered recovery program, Continue reading

Commission on Human Relations Dragged into Total War

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations held a special meeting for the sole seeming purpose of determining whether and how to punish one of its members for publicly discussing her concerns about that body’s search for a new Director.

As was reported seven weeks ago:

New Commissioner Helen Gerhardt called it “an improper process” plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability and added that the next director could have an impact on the “daily lives of many thousands who work, visit, or live in Pittsburgh for decades to come.”


Ms. Gerhardt, who has frequently clashed with the commission’s leadership over the hiring process, said commissioners were only given the resume of Ms. Rogers, the preferred candidate of the commission’s personnel committee, at the July 30 meeting. Ms. Gerhardt’s request to see the resumes of other finalists was refused.

“We were expected to do an up-or-down vote on the candidate without having the time to look at [resumes]. And commissioners were not supposed to do outside research or to bring it to the personnel committee for consideration,” she said.  (P-G, Zullo & Potter)

Yesterday, that was Commissioner Leah Williams-Duncan’s pointed concern. Duncan had been chairwoman Continue reading

County, State & Beyond: More sheep shearing

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 6.46.50 PMThis will just about catch us up.


ALCOSAN, the City / County sewer authority, has begun investing billions in a centennial overhaul. But ALCOSAN officials are not shopping around for an engineering firm to manage the lion’s share, having settled into a favorite named AECOM. One board member actually resigned because contracting decisions seemed too thinly justified to be associated with.

It is probably time for elected-on-autopilot Allegheny County Treasurer John Weinstein, who chairs the ALCOSAN board and is responsible for how these decisions get made, to step into the limelight. He can begin providing real public accountability for the whole sensational undertaking, instead of public relations.


The new health care system is up and running Continue reading

City Edition: Shearing the Sheep of State

Let’s take care of some issues that have been festering:


Before we dive into such profound topics as architecture and who gets to design it, let me say one thing about Pittsburgh Penguins’ owners alleged interest in selling the hockey franchise and the 28 developable acres:  I don’t trust them.

Why would Mario Lemieux fight so long and ingeniously to become part-owner of huge and pristine tracts of Downtown land, then sell out at the very precipice of becoming a Duke?

Rather, it must be negotiating season once again when it comes to complying with community agreements. Much like his notorious feint towards Kansas City, Lemieux may Continue reading

HBO adaptation of August Wilson cycle will be a huge eruption

Home Box Office, or HBO as they like to be called, makes fantastic television.

The Brink was wonderful, Silicon Valley got better and better, and Ballers was exactly what it wanted to be at the outset, although that turned out to be disappointing. And I don’t even have to tell you about Game of Thrones and Last Week Tonight.

Quality source material helps make for good television. August Wilson is sometimes considered one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century.

It is remarkable how cable television has conditioned us to expect new content in ten-episode seasons, and here Wilson provides a tidy package of ten plays about a timely topic:  race in America, and the ongoing struggle to heal certain wounds.

All of which suggests that this HBO series is probably going to earn a lot of attention and acclaim.

Which is great, as  Continue reading

Police Chief McLay’s Reading List

MORE: See the Courier

MORE: See the Courier

First:  hurry!  You have only until the end of this week to sign up for autumn’s Citizens Police Academy, an informal 15-week course designed to help you get better acquainted with how our city’s Bureau of Police works.

It’s a good class for everybody from neighborhood or organizational participants who want to work more closely with law enforcement on their block or at their events, to social justice activists seeking to deepen their understanding of the 5-0’s perspectives.

They don’t try to convince you that they’re all angels, so much as provide information as they see it and live it. It’s a good atmosphere for back-and-forth.

Meanwhile we caught up with Police Chief Cameron McLay the other day, and asked him his reading recommendations for understanding policing challenges in the modern era. Here is what he had for us:   Continue reading