It indicated that he didn’t pass the buck but accepted responsibility for the way the country was run.
What does it say on your desk, Gov. Tom Wolf?
Your latest Tweets don’t fill Pennsylvania residents with confidence:
“There are widespread rumors that I will soon be announcing a statewide school building closure or cancelling classes this fall. I want to be clear: I am not closing school buildings or cancelling classes.”
“School governing boards and administrators will determine if school buildings reopen and if classes resume in person, remotely, or a combination of the two. The best way to find out about these local decisions is to contact your school’s governing board or administration.”
Well, that’s two things you now have in common with President Donald Trump.
As chief executive of the state, you had an obligation to do that.
It’s a crying shame that many in government have politicized every aspect of this disaster and the response to it.
I know you have taken a lot of criticism from Republicans trying to score points off your quick and sound judgement in this matter. They call you a tyrant because you did what every previous governor has done during a statewide disaster – you made decisions to safeguard lives.
Nothing has changed. If anything, there are significantly more cases reported every day now than in March.
If schools needed to be closed to in-person classes and education needed to be conducted on-line back then, that is still true today.
Perhaps this doesn’t have to be statewide. Perhaps it can be decided county-by-county. But you need to work collaboratively with county officials and school boards to coordinate the response to the virus.
(1) Open schools completely to in-person learning with safety precautions
(2) Keep classes entirely on-line as they were in April and May
(3) Offer some kind of hybrid of the two
Many schools are opting for this hybrid model.
This means reopening to in-person classes part of the time and on-line learning for the rest.
There are many ways to do this.
In my home district of McKeesport, this means having half of the students attend in the morning and the other half in the afternoon with the balance of their class work being done via the Internet.
In Steel Valley, the district where I work as a middle school teacher, this means half of the students attending full days on Mondays and Tuesdays, half on Thursdays and Fridays and the building is deep cleaned while students are taught completely on-line on Wednesdays.
In either case, parents can opt-in to an entirely virtual plan, but it’s expected that most adults would choose the hybrid model with its partial in-person classes for their children.
The hybrid model, then, is tantamount to putting children, teachers and families at risk for a reduced amount of time.
Why take the risk? On the premise that in-person instruction is more robust than on-line learning. Students learn more in the classroom from educators who are physically present than they do on the Internet.
There is significant evidence to back that up. However, this premise ignores the fact that invasive but necessary safety measures like wearing masks and practicing social distancing throughout the day will inevitably have negative effects on learning.
Moving into Phase 1 would require a “Downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases over a 14-day period.” Moving to Phase 2 would require a “Downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases for at least 14 days after entering Phase 1.”
No state has experienced a “downward trajectory” for COVID-19 cases for 28 straight days. In most states, cases are increasing.
That document suggested several expensive and difficult safety measures such as broad testing of students and faculty and contact tracing to find people exposed to an infected student or teacher – none of which is being done locally.
However, no matter how you look at it, reopening school buildings – even with a hybrid approach – increases risk significantly.
If school buildings are reopened with students and staff coming and going – even at a reduced rate through a hybrid plan – one would expect the virus already present in the community to gain access to our schools where it would be further spread to different segments of the community.
Schools are great meeting points. They are where local neighborhoods connect, learn, grow and share. Reopening them in a physical fashion allows for greater sharing of any easily communicable diseases in the area.
So exactly how communicable is COVID-19?
It’s often compared to influenza which infects millions of people every year yet these outbreaks rarely close schools.
Only about 0.1 percent of the people who got the flu in the US last year died of it, according to the CDC. Yet about 5.2 percent of those who came down with COVID-19 have died, based on the reported totals of cases and deaths.
During the 2018-19 flu season, about 34,000 people in the US died, according to the CDC. So far, 143,193 people have died of COVID-19 in the US, as of July 23.
Some say that even given such statistics, children are less susceptible than adults.
However, the virus was only discovered in 2019. So little is known about it – for instance, the low percentage of cases in children may be because schools were closed in April and May before many kids were exposed to it.
A recent South Korean study – the most in depth of its kind to examine how the virus affects children – found that it is especially active in older kids.
“For people who lived with parents between the ages of 10 and 19, 18.6% tested positive for the virus within about 10 days after the initial case was detected — the highest rate of transmission among the groups studied. Children younger than 10 spread the virus at the lowest rate, though researchers warned that could change when schools reopen,” wrote Stephen Stapczynski for Bloomberg News.
“So long as children are not just a complete dead end – incapable of passing the virus on, which does not seem to be the case – putting them together in schools, having them mix with teachers and other students will provide additional opportunities for the virus to move from person to person,” he said.
Do such facts represent an acceptable risk for opening schools – even with a hybrid model?
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says it does.
She said, “there’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being in school is in any way dangerous.”
However, if even .02% of public school students were likely to die if school buildings were reopened, that’s 11,320 children!
Are we willing to risk the lives of tens of thousands – perhaps more – children on the unproven promise of a slight improvement in academics?
And keep in mind that doesn’t even take into account the cost to adults.
According to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), 1 in 4 teachers in the U.S. – roughly 1.5 million people – are at increased risk for complications if they become infected with the Coronavirus. This includes educators over the age of 65 and those – like myself – with a pre-existing health condition that makes them more vulnerable.
According to the CDC, death from COVID-19 is significantly more common in older adults. Though the median age of U.S. teachers is 42.4 years, nearly 19 percent of teachers are 55 and older, reports the National Center for Education Statistics.
Health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease also increase one’s risk for serious illness from the virus. The CDC warns that roughly 60 percent of American adults have at least one chronic medical condition, and about 40 percent have two or more.
The situation is even more dire when we look at parents and grandparents in students’ homes. The KFF issued a report in July concluding that 3.3 million adults 65 or older live in a household with school-age children.
And let’s not forget the racial component.
Most minorities are more susceptible to COVID-19 because of the higher rates of social inequality they are forced to live under.
According to the CDC, Native Americans and Black people are hospitalized from the Coronavirus five times more often than White people. Hispanic and Latino people are hospitalized four times more often than White people.
Physically reopening school buildings in communities that serve large populations of people of color, then, invites greater risk than in predominantly white communities.
In any case, though, reopening school buildings – even under a hybrid model – significantly increases the risk for all the people living there.
So in summary, it is clear that the three basic options for reopening schools each offer different levels of risk.
A full reopening of schools even with safety precautions brings the highest risk. However, the hybrid model also brings significant danger to students, teachers and families – even if somewhat less than full reopening.
Distance learning has the lowest risk of all. It keeps most children physically separate from each other and thus limits exposure to the virus to the greatest extent. Likewise, it limits jeopardy for educators and other adults because teachers would mostly come into contact with children through the internet and parents would not be further complicated through potential viral contacts of their children.
From an academic standpoint, distance learning certainly has its drawbacks compared with face-to-face learning. But compared with mask-to-mask learning, virtual instruction may actually be preferable.
In any case, increased risk of death or debilitating disease has a chilling effect on learning for all involved.
In most communities – perhaps all – a decision on school reopening that balances safety with academics would lean toward distance learning above anything else.
Even if on-line learning turns out to be less effective than that provided in the hybrid model, any deficiencies can be targeted and ameliorated once the pandemic ends.
As yet, death admits of no such remedies.
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So for 12 months, there will be no state cuts to basic and special education or block grant programs for K-12 schools. Nor will there be state cuts to pre-kindergarten programs or colleges and universities receiving state funding such as community colleges.
That’s really good news in such uncertain times.
School directors can get their own financial houses in order for 2020-2021 without wondering whether the state is going to pull the rug out from under them.
The federal government pays about 10% of the cost across the board. The problem in Pennsylvania is that the state isn’t meeting its obligations thereby forcing local neighborhoods to shoulder most of the costs.
In rich neighborhoods, the local tax base can pick up the slack. In middle class neighborhoods, they can try. But poor communities end up relying more on the state to help or else their kids (who already have greater needs growing up in poverty) have to do without.
Those with greater problems are not given more money to deal with them. Instead, the money is being divided nearly evenly.
If you think that’s fair, imagine dividing $10 so a rich person, a middle class person and a poor person could get lunch. They’d each get $3 and change. The poor person can eat off the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant. The middle class person can use it to pay for tip at a sit-down restaurant. And the rich person can light his cigar with it on the way to a fine dining establishment.
In the case of theCOVID-19 stimulus money, each school district will get a minimum of $120,000 while each intermediate unit, career and technical center, charter school, regional charter school and cyber charter school gets $90,000. If there is any money left over, those funds will be distributed to school districts based on 2018-19 average daily membership.
However, why should cyber charter schools receive this money at all? They don’t have any extra costs for transitioning to distance learning. That is their stock and trade already. Moreover, they don’t have buildings that need deep cleaning or remodeling. This money is a no strings gift to such enterprises while other educational institutions go wanting.
Moreover, brick and mortar charter schools almost always serve smaller student populations than authentic public schools. Why should they receive a flat $90,000? Wouldn’t it be better to given them a portion of this money based on the number of students they serve and the degree of poverty these kids live in?
In fact, wouldn’t it make more sense to do the same among authentic public school districts, too? Why should a rich district where almost everyone already has wi-fi and personal technology devices get the same as a poor one where these services are much less widespread? Why should the state give the wealthy as much help as those who can’t meet their basic obligations to children without it?
It’s not like the Commonwealth doesn’t already have a measure to allocate funding more fairly. The legislature passed a bipartisan Basic Education Funding formula that we could have used to ensured districts would have received funding proportionate to the needs of their students.
The fact that the legislature neglected to use it here shows too many in the Republican majority are not committed to equity. In fact, they revel in being able to bring unnecessary money to their wealthier districts.
THE COMING STORM
These measures from the state legislature are a start at addressing the financial impact of the Coronavirus crisis.
In Pennsylvania, districts anticipate $850 million to $1 billion in revenue shortfalls.
That could result in massive teacher layoffs and cuts to student services just as the cost to provide schooling increases with additional difficulties of life during a worldwide pandemic.
The state legislature can’t fix the problem alone.
The $13.5 billion in CARES Act stimulus provided to states is a fraction of the $79 billion that the federal government provided during the Great Recession. U.S. Congress needs to step up federal aide to protect our children and ensure their educations aren’t forfeit for economic woes they played no part in causing.
Now I’m oversimplifying a bit since you can only use the EITC for up to $750,000 a year, but it’s still a sweet deal for those who take advantage of it.
Meanwhile, this is less money for the rest of us to pay for much needed services. We lost $124 million in 2018-19, alone, to this program. Yet the legislature still voted to increase the program by $25 million last year.
We cannot afford to give away hundreds of millions of dollars annually to private and parochial schools while our authentic public schools which serve more than 90% of our children are underfunded.
In addition they have been found to increase racial segregation, cherrypick students, increase administrative overhead and discriminate against students with special needs.
But the state passed a law in 1997 allowing charter schools and there is nothing Pittsburgh Public Schools can do but continue to pay for them.
School directors, administrators, teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens can lobby their representatives in Harrisburg to fix these problems, but until they do there is little local districts can do.
However, the fact that charter schools increase local taxes is beyond doubt.
Basically, the legislature stopped paying the bills for nearly two decades.
The state government, local school districts and commonwealth employees are responsible for paying into the pension system. Districts and state workers made all their payments. Employees put aside 7.5% of their salaries every year to pay for their retirement.
But the legislature didn’t make its payments. It pushed them off to the future, and now that the future’s here, a larger percentage of the cost has fallen on local school districts.
It’s a problem of Harrisburg’s making and – frankly – the legislature should be buckling down to find a solution.
What they should do is increase taxes on the wealthy and pay their damn bills.
We had a contract with employees when they were hired. We can’t renege on it now that they’ve retired.
Once again this is something Pittsburgh Public school directors and administrators have no control over. It will take a combined effort by local communities across the Commonwealth to lobby Harrisburg to get off its ass and fix the problem it made.
Now that the city is out of financial distress (and has been since 2018), Dr. Hamlet has suggested the city should return that money – not back payments, just stop taking the additional tax revenue. Administrators estimate that would bring in another $20 million for the city school district.
It wouldn’t heal the budget shortfall all by itself, but it would certainly help.
The proposed tax increase would mean paying an additional $23 for a property valued at $100,000.
This is not an unbearable burden.
Some complain that it would push city residents to move – but really anywhere else you move will have higher taxes! Anyone who packs up and moves away will not be doing it for financial reasons.
I am thankful that board members Veronica Edwards, Pam Harbin, Devon Taliaferro, and Sylvia Wilson understood that by voting for both the proposed budget and the tax increase.
Kevin Carter, at least approved the spending plan, but he abstained from voting on whether the district should raise taxes, explaining later that he promised his constituents that was something he wouldn’t do.
Board members Cindy Falls, Bill Gallagher, Terry Kennedy, and Sala Udin voted against both measures.
Here’s hoping they find the courage to do what’s right after the holidays.
But even if they do, there is much more we must accomplish – and it requires everyone.
City residents need to rise up and demand their representatives put out the raging dumpster fires they keep lighting.
The city has a surplus due to construction of new high-end apartments. City Council could have budgeted some of this money to pay for the parks. Instead, leaders like Peduto were too cowardly to take the blame, themselves, and put it out as a question to voters.
When the city was placed under Act 47 state oversight, the formula was changed to give a quarter percent more to the city from the school’s allotment – thus 1.75% went to the schools and 1.25% went to the city.
Pittsburgh left Act 47 in 2018 but the wage tax distribution has remained the same.
“Why in the heck can’t the school board balance their budget?” Peduto said. “Where is all this money going?”
Answer: Some of it is still going unnecessarily to fill your municipal coffers.
“If they are looking to have part of the city’s wage tax, then they should be willing to open the books and let the state come in and do exactly what we had to do through Act 47, which was difficult restructuring for the future. If we didn’t have that, the city would be bankrupt.”
So let me get this straight. In order to give back the revenue the schools generously loaned the city, you need a look at their finances? I sure wouldn’t lend you a dollar or else I’d have to show you my tax returns and checking account just to get the loan repaid.
“If they simply say, ‘We’re going to take your revenue to fix our hole,’ and not be the leaders that they were elected to be in making tough decisions like raising taxes, then I have no time for that, absolutely none, and I will fight them in Harrisburg.”
How generous! That’s like threatening to go to Mom and Dad to settle your dispute. A real leader would know he was in the wrong and just pay up.
This isn’t the first time Peduto has clashed with city schools.
He seems to think his role as mayor supersedes that of the school district which operates independently through an elected nine-member board.
“They have to remember they’re a board. They’re not a government. They’re no different than the water board or the Port Authority board or the airport board. They’re a board of education. Their job should be solely making sure that kids are getting a good education. When there becomes labor strife in the city, labor strife that could affect the economic development of the city for years to come, they need to move out of the way and let [elected] leaders lead.”
Dr, Hamlet said this was a “bargaining process, not a political” one, and that Peduto needed to let administration continue the process of bargaining with the teachers – a process that resulted in a new contract without a strike.
The relationship has been chilly even before Hamlet was hired in 2016.
Like many charter schools, the Hill District institution is incredibly segregated. According to ProPublica, 96% of students are children of color. It has no gifted program, offers no AP courses, has no students taking the SAT or ACT test, no calculus classes, no advanced math, no physics, geometry, chemistry or 8th grade algebra courses.
Peduto said he would lobby for additional funding for city schools in Harrisburg but district solicitor Ira Weiss said the mayor never followed through.
Peduto proposed increasing school revenue by helping to rent out unused school space. That hasn’t happened, either, said Weiss.
Peduto suggested increasing student after school programs by working together with the district and others like the YMCA and the Student Conservation Association. While a few such programs do exist, there is no broad collaboration, said Errika Fearby Jones, the executive director of Dr. Hamlet’s office.
Peduto’s summer reading program with the city and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh likewise never materialized – though the library runs its own program.
Moreover, Peduto’s plan to restart the Generations Together program with the University of Pittsburgh to promote cross-generational learning never happened either. Pitt shut down the program in 2002.
Curtiss Porter, who served as Peduto’s chief education and neighborhood reinvestment officer during the first year of his administration, blames the problem on a disagreement about who should be in charge.
The city and school district had a good working relationship when he was there, he said, but there was “a clear demarcation” between the two bodies, which made it difficult to implement some of Peduto’s ideas.
“At critical junctures…the school district made it clear that they were willing partners but that they did not have to bow to the city,” he said. “[They] made it clear the city had no jurisdiction over education.”
And that disconnect appears to continue today.
Peduto is engaged in an ignorant and arrogant power struggle with city schools that helps no one.
Both candidates are running for District 4, which serves parts of Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, Shadyside and North Oakland. Since they’ve cross filed and will appear on both the Republican and Democratic primary ballots, the seat should be decided in the May 21 primary.
Batista and Harbin have raised similar amounts for their campaigns. Harbin has $33,412.95 while Batista has $32,414.
Batista has support from at least two troubling industries – school privatizers and corporate crusaders – which are nowhere to be seen in her opponents financials.
Someone shouldn’t be running for a public school board with backing from the same vultures demanding public schools be dismantled and their assets and funding siphoned away to private industry. Charter schools cost the Pittsburgh Public district more than $85 million per year in tuition payments. While the district has no plans to open new public schools, it is forced to open new charter schools every time one of these publicly financed but privately run institutions appeals to the state Charter Appeal Board, further draining resources away from remaining public schools.
In fact, Batista is using “Students First” as a title on her campaign mailers. This is the name of a well-known school privatization group founded by infamous public school saboteur Michelle Rhee. The education justice movement across the country and here in Pittsburgh has been fighting Students First for years. They are infamous for dumping money into Pennsylvania politics to back legislators friendly to school privatization. No one who is serious about education justice would use this title: either Batista does not know about Students First, she knows and doesn’t care, or she is being intentional in signaling to privatizers that she is on their side.
-Nathaniel Yap, spouse of Brian Smith, Catalyst Charter Founder and CEO ($1,000)
And then we come to the big business partisans.
Many of these advocate for tax deferment programs to entice businesses into the Pittsburgh area on the condition that they are allowed to escape paying taxes or pay at a reduced rate for a certain number of years. Programs such as Tax Incremental Financing (TIFs) put a heavier burden on the schools than other public resources. They cost the school district 50% as opposed to the county and city, which only lose 25% of their owed taxes each.
-Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital (Developers of Bakery Square and other projects that have received a number of TIFs)
-Helen Casey, CEO of Howard Hanna
-John Katz, Brandywine Agency ($1,000 plus in-kind) (His office in the Squirrel Hill business district is worth thousands)
-Paul Katz, Brandywine Agency ($250)
-Patricia Katz, Brandywine Agency ($1,000)
-Rod Werstil, McKinney Properties ($500)
-Kevin McKeegan, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP (Pittsburgh Real Estate Law)
-Luke Meyers, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Affiliates (New York Real Estate Law)
-Nancy Finkelstein, Schulte Roth & Zabel (Finkelstein’s Linkedin Profile includes this quote: “I have concentrated my practice on representing private equity funds, investment banks, hedge funds, financial institutions, finance companies and high-net-worth individuals in a wide variety of transactions, including financings, debt restructurings, leveraged acquisitions, and collateralized loan facilities.”)
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers gave Harbin $5,000 instead of Batista.
Likewise, Unite! Pittsburgh gave Harbin $1,500 over Batista. This is State Rep. Summer Lee’s PAC. The organization supports candidates running on a criminal justice slate who are committed to ending the school-to-prison, poverty-to-prison, and addiction-to-prison pipelines.
Other notable donations to Harbin’s campaign include:
While senators and representatives from all over the Commonwealth work to enact the will of their constituents from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, residents at city schools a few miles away would be robbed of their own voices.
Three unfailingly vote against the administration: Brian Carter, Judd Pittman and Carrie Fowler. There is one wild card: Joseph Brown, who was just appointed to take a vacant seat on the board this month and has mostly abstained from voting.
Of these, Brown and all of those supporting the administration but Robinson are up for re-election.
If even two of the newcomers are elected, that will shift the balance of power away from those who have enabled an administration infamous for irresponsible errors and neglect purchased at the expense of personal favors to weak willed school directors.
Despite an almost laughable record of corruption in the district, voters have a chance to change course in less than a month.
All of the reform candidates are Democrats so the matter could be settled by the May 21 primary.
It would be beyond absurd for the state to step in and deny the public the right to correct its own ship.
However, though new candidates could be elected in a matter of weeks, they wouldn’t be sworn in until December. So even under the best of circumstances, city schools would remain under the dysfunctional board for the foreseeable future.
My friend Pam Harbin is trying to undergo a startling metamorphosis.
She wants to transform from an education activist into a Pittsburgh School Director.
Now that Board President Lynda Wrenn is stepping down after 4 years, city voters in District 4 will have to decide whether Harbin can make the change. The election is on May 21.
Residents in parts of Squirrel Hill, Point Breeze, Shadyside and North Oakland already know Harbin as a fierce warrior for children’s civil rights, the plight of disabled kids and authentic public schools.
I’ve known Pam, personally, for years in my own role as an education activist. Though I don’t live in the city, I’ve participated in numerous collective actions to fight for the schools all our children deserve. And right beside me in every case – often in front of me – was Pam.
I may not live in the district, but I wish I could vote for her. Harbin is an amazing leader with boundless energy, piercing intelligence, a deep knowledge of education policy, an advanced degree in finance and marketing, and an impressive track record of education justice achievements.
“I am deeply concerned for our system of public education,” she says. “The status quo isn’t working for all children. Thankfully, there are many people here in Pittsburgh and across the country who are fighting for investment in, and transformation of, our public schools. Unfortunately, their efforts are hindered by the well-funded organizations who fight for public school disinvestment, privatization, and for the elimination of teachers’ right to unionize.”
For the past 12 years, Harbin has been at the forefront of every major battle for the future of Pittsburgh’s public schools and the rights of its students.
Harbin was instrumental in pushing city school board directors to enact a suspension ban from Pk-2nd grade for minor non-violent conduct. She successfully fought to stop the district from implementing a physical restraint protocol that wasn’t trauma informed. She successfully fought against a policy that would have allowed school police officers to carry guns. She supported a successful Sanctuary Schools Policy for immigrant students. She also supported changes to the districts policies that would better welcome and include Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ students, including a change that allows students to use the bathroom that best fits their own gender identity.
Harbin and her coalition of local activists even made national news when they stopped the district from contracting with Teach for America, stopped the closing of 10 schools (after 23 were previously closed), pushed the board to hire a new Superintendent using an inclusive process that relied heavily on community input, and led the fight for a Community School Policy and the creation of 8 Community Schools.
Harbin has two challengers in the election: Anna Batista, a corporate consultant at Highstreet Consulting and Ashley Priore, a 19-year-old first year student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Business and English, who started a successful after school chess program for girls.
Harbin is one of the most experienced education leaders ever to run for school board in the city. She co-founded the Education Rights Network (ERN), a parent-led organization working for fully resourced, inclusive and quality education for students throughout Pennsylvania. The ERN is part of One Pennsylvania, an organization that unites low income and working class activists to tackle the fundamental economic justice and political problems of local communities.
“Our members are workers, students, parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and retirees who are excited to learn, collaborate, and build power,” she says. “We follow the money, confront the power, and make the change.”
Harbin is also a member and past Co-Chair of the Pittsburgh Local Task Force on the Right to Education (LTF), a parent-majority organization that works with administrators of Pittsburgh Public Schools and community agencies to improve services for students with disabilities.
And she serves on the board of directors and was past President of Evolve Coaching (formerly Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh), supporting individuals with disabilities and their communities through education, employment, and the arts.
No one else in the race—and maybe in the whole city—has a resume like Harbin’s.
Harbin believes her years of leadership for and service to Pittsburgh students and families have provided her with the needed foundation for a transition from community leader to school board member. She has attended or streamed more than 2,000 hours of school board meetings. She has served on Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) district-wide advisory committees, including the Community Schools Steering Committee, Envisioning Educational Excellence Advisory Committee, Parental Involvement Policy Committee, Excellence for All Steering Committee, and the Special Education Delivery Model Advisory Committee. And through these many committees and organizations Harbin has helped more than 100 individual families secure an IEP or a 504 plan for their children—in part because she understands better than most the byzantine world of public school special education services.
No one is better suited to this position than Harbin. I literally wish we could clone her and have her fill every vacancy on the board. She is that qualified, that experienced, and that effective.
If this sounds a bit like a love letter, it kind of is.
“When our public schools are strong, our children and community thrive,” she says. “We have many great Pittsburgh Public Schools, teachers, and programs. But, in each school, there are children who can’t excel because their individual needs have not been met. We must do better.”
“We must remove the barriers that keep all of our children from fulfilling their dreams. This requires transformational, sustainable change in policy and practice at the local, state, and national level.”
If anyone can make that change happen, it’s Harbin. As someone who has a degree in finance, who is an experienced negotiator and a proven coalition builder, she is uniquely qualified to do so from within the board as she has been successful doing so from outside of it.
She has an ambitious set of goals and priorities if elected:
-Strengthening relationships between all stake-holders with an emphasis on child wellness.
-Defining success beyond standardized test scores to include authentic education practices, addressing trauma, disengagement, hunger, the quality of school food programs, the condition of our buildings and bathrooms, and children’s need for exercise and play.
-Achieving smaller class sizes and a smaller ratio of kids to adults in each building with more teachers, counselors, social workers, paraprofessionals, nurses, librarians, and other staff that keeps the building functioning at its best.
-Restoring funding to art, music, physical education, and other programming that keep kids wanting to come to school.
-Stopping criminalization and over-policing of students, and stopping the use of ineffective punishments that keep children away from their learning and put them on the track to drop out, to jail, and to poverty.
-Intentionally recruiting, retaining, and supporting educators of color and those who identify as LGBTQ.
-Working to make teacher mentoring, new teacher induction, and professional development better to make the very best use of teachers’ time and address key gaps in preparation to teach the wide spectrum of students in the district.
-Making teacher evaluation fair and consistent, not based solely on test scores or value added models.
-Ensuring teachers (and all school staff) are well paid, treated fairly, and valued for the critical work they do for children every day.
-Protecting collective bargaining rights so teachers (and all staff) have a voice to improve their schools – because teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions.
-Investing in the proven Community Schools model and work collaboratively with community partners to bring resources to each school.
-Working at the state level to force our legislators to finally provide adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for public education and stop efforts to dismantle public education through vouchers and other privatization schemes.
-Building coalitions to improve the flawed state Charter School Law – Charter Schools must have more accountability for the delivery of education to all students, including disabled children, English Language Learners, and kids who are homeless or who are in foster care.
I could literally go on about Pam for another 10,000 words. Easy.
But let me close with this.
Harbin began her journey as an education leader when she started advocating for her own children at their first elementary school—Liberty elementary in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh. She found that she could make a difference for a few children at a time by throwing herself into volunteer work at the school.
But then she realized that if she wanted to make a difference for more than just a few children that she needed to work with others. Indeed, to do this work effectively Pam has had to work with people of different backgrounds, races, opinions and ideologies. She has had to listen to others, to compromise, to build bridges, and to prioritize common goals in each of her coalitions. In short, she gets things done.
And she’s been doing that for more than a dozen years.
Not because she has no choice. Not because anyone is paying her to do so. Not because doing so is bringing her any riches or fame.
But because it has been the right thing to do.
And that’s the best endorsement I can imagine.
NOTE: Special thanks to Professor Kathleen M. Newman who helped edit this article.
However, County Council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald would have to do the work of actually creating all this stuff. They’d have to pass an ordinance establishing how this all works, what powers the advisory commission has, etc. They would have to determine whether the money goes to existing programs or new ones. They’d have to set up audits of the money every five years, conduct a study to recommend goals and a focus for how the funding is spent.
That’s an awful lot left undecided.
It makes no sense for voters to hand over the money BEFOREwe figure all this other stuff out.
It’s not at all how good government works.
You’re supposed to define a problem or need and then come up with a plan to meet that need. You prepare a budget that justifies raising taxes and then you vote on it.
This is exactly the opposite. We’re getting the money before the plan of how to spend it.
That’s a recipe for fraud and financial mismanagement.
2) It’s Unclear Who Would Be In Charge of the Money
Who would be accountable for this money?
We know who gets to decide this – County Council and the Chief Executive. But we don’t know who they will pick or what powers they’ll delegate to these people. Nor do we know what kind of oversight there will be or what kind of regulations will exist for how it can be spent.
This is a blind statement of trust.
It’s like saying – “Here’s $18 million. Go buy us something nice.”
What if they mismanage the money? And what would that even mean for money with so few strings attached? And how would we know? How transparent would this process be?
It’s kind of hard to approve such a plan with so many variables up in the air.
Financial documents show that the whole initiative has been funded by various nonprofit organizations that could, themselves, become beneficiaries of this same fund.
According to the Children’s Fund’s own campaign finance report, as of June there were three nonprofit corporations who donated $427,000 to the campaign: the Human Services Center of Turtle Creek gave $160,000, Pressley Ridge Foundation gave $150,000, and Allies for Children gave a donation of $45,000 and another for $72,000.
That’s like McDonalds spending a hundred thousand dollars to fix up the school cafeterias so it could land a multi-million dollar annual contract!
It’s a huge conflict of interest.
At very least, it’s purposefully misleading.
Many of those “volunteers” gathering signatures weren’t working for free. They were part of the $100,000 spent by the campaign to hire Vote Goal Organizing for paid signature collectors.
That doesn’t look like charity. It looks like philanthrocapitalism – when corporations try to disguise grabs for power and profit as philanthropy.
“First and foremost, we have not had any conversations with the organizers of the referendum,” board president Regina Holley said. “There are lots of ifs and whats that have not been answered.”
Kevin Carter, another city school director added, “In my role as a school board member, they didn’t talk to us about this at all.”
“When you leave your largest school district in the region out of this conversation, are you doing this around children?” he asked, citing that the district serves 25,000 students daily.
This has been a common thread among officials. No one wants to say they’re against collecting money that’s ostensibly for the benefit of children, but it’s hard to manage the money if you’re not part of the process.
And it’s not just protocol. Many are worried that this lack of communication may be emblematic of how the fund will be run. If organizers aren’t willing to work with local governments to get the job done, how will they know what each community needs? How will they meet those needs? Is that even what the fund will really be about?
Richard Livingston, Clairton school board president, noted concern that the money collected might not be spent evenly throughout the county. For all he knows, it could just be spent in the city or in select areas.
Indeed, this is not the best way to start any endeavor funded by all, for the benefit of all children.
5) It’s Redundant
While it’s true that the county could use more funding to meet the needs of students, numerous organizations already exist that attempt to provide these services.
There are a plethora of Pre-K, after school tutoring and meal services in the Mon Valley. In fact, much of this is done at the county’s various neighborhood schools.
If organizers were only concerned with meeting these needs, why form an office within county government that would have an appointed advisory commission? Why not just increase the funding at the local schools and/or organizations already doing this work?
“At PIIN, we believe that the faith community is a sacred partner with our public schools, and we have long been supportive of both the community schools model and increasing state funding to provide an excellent, high-quality education to every child in our region. We believe in funding for early childhood learning, after school programs, and nutritious meals. However, we cannot support a ballot initiative that creates an unnecessary entity, with an unknown advisory board, and an unclear process for directing our tax dollars.
This is why we are urging our membership to reject the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative at the polls this November.”
Compare that to a traditional public school – an institution invariably operated by duly elected members of the community with full transparency and accountability in an open forum where taxpayers have access to internal documents, can have their voices heard and even seek an administrative position.
THAT’S a responsible way to handle public money!
Not forking over our checkbook to virtual strangers!
Sure, they might not steal our every red cent. But an interloper who finds a blank check on the street might not cash it, either.
It’s really that simple! I turn over nearly all of my public tax dollars to the management company that then uses it to operate the school – and keeps whatever it doesn’t spend.
Heck! It doesn’t even matter who owns the company! It could even be me!
The law actually allows me to wear one hat saying I’m nonprofit and then put on a different hat and rake in the cash! The only difference is what hat I’m wearing at the time!
SO I get to claim to be a nonprofit while enjoying all the advantages of being for-profit.
I may even be able to buy things with public tax dollars through my for-profit management company and then if my “nonprofit” school goes belly up, I get to keep everything I bought! Or my management company does.
So the public takes all the risk and I reap all the reward. And I’m still graced with the label “nonprofit.”
Both types of privatized institution allow for huge windfalls in real estate. If I own property X, I can sell it to my charter school (or management company) and then pay myself with tax dollars. Who determines how much I pay for my own property? ME! That’s who!
And I can still be a nonprofit.
Think that’s bad? It’s just the tip of the iceberg.
I could do like the almost exclusively “nonprofit” Gulen charter schools and exist solely as a means to raise money for an out-of-favor political movement in Turkey.
I could use charter funds to finance other businesses. I could decide to discontinue programs that students receive in traditional public schools such as providing free or reduced lunches but keep the cash. I could fake enrollment and have classes full of “ghost students” that the local, state and federal government will pay me to educate.
So all this talk about nonprofit and for-profit charter schools is either a mark of supreme ignorance or a ploy for weak willed politicians to weasel their way out of taking a stand on an issue whose merits are obvious to anyone who knows what really happens in our education system.
It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer money on this expensive fraud.