Photo by Christopher Sprowls Photography
Photo of the moderator and candidates at the May 8 forum.

By Nick Eustis

As part of the “Vote School Boards First” campaign, the Kaufmann Center in the Hill District hosted a city-wide School Board Candidate Forum on May 8. All eight candidates from Pittsburgh Public Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 met to discuss a variety of issues about how Pittsburgh public schools should operate.

Organized by local advocacy group A+ Schools, this was the only forum before the May 16 school board primary election in which all candidates participated.

Competing for District 9’s school board seat are incumbent Carolyn Klug (Democrat) and challenger Veronica Edwards (Democrat/Republican). Edwards cross-filed with both parties for the upcoming primary election, boosting her chance of making it to the general election on November 7.

One question the District 9 candidates were asked is how they would address the issue of student attendance. A 2016 report by A+ Schools found that 30 percent of students at Langley K-8 and Morrow PreK-8 were chronically absent.

Carolyn Klug answered by proposing a moratorium on suspensions for minor infractions, noting that “if you’re not in your seat, you’re not learning anything.” Klug also proposed working more with parents to determine if there is a “stumbling block” causing these attendance issues.

In her answer, Veronica Edwards said she would bring back Home and School Visitors, who are social workers that work to eliminate barriers to student achievement. Edwards said that this would help students “connect the dots…between school and home.”

Another question asked was whether the candidates would raise property taxes to fund their proposals. In her answer, Carolyn Klug said, “I’m not sure I would vote today on a property tax hike,” but would promote efforts to lobby the Pennsylvania state government for more equitable funding instead.

Veronica Edwards responded that she would not place funding burdens solely on the taxpayers. Instead, Edwards said she would lobby both private and public entities to fill the gap.

“Foundations can help. Corporations, businesses, local, city, state, federal government, there are a lot of other places we can rally or lobby for additional funding,” Edwards said.

The candidates were also asked about their stance on school safety, particularly whether police officers in schools should carry guns. This question was timely as video was released in early May showing a police officer allegedly abusing two different students at Woodland Hills High School in Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Veronica Edwards answered that she was against arming police in schools, instead proposing that schools should foster a “healthy learning environment” that encourages police and students to come together, citing a similar program at Pittsburgh’s Brashear High School.

“Let’s do something better than give them a gun,” Edwards said.

In her answer, Carolyn Klug said that gun safety should be enacted “on a different level, not the school district level.” Instead, Klug said that we should focus on restorative practice programs and teaching positive behavior models that will encourage a positive and respectful learning environment.

One of the forum’s final questions concerned how the educational system can reinforce positive racial identity in students. Studies have shown that students with a positive racial identity behave better and have higher GPAs and test scores.

Veronica Edwards responded that she would survey students to determine the cause of problems regarding racial identity. Edwards said she would then seek out programs that could be implemented, citing programs like Pittsburgh Promise as possible solutions.

Carolyn Klug answered that we need to better utilize Pittsburgh’s cultural resources.

“Pittsburgh is rich with culture. We need to invite guests into schools. We need to take field trips to other Heritage sites around the city, and we need to invite volunteers into the school that look like us and that don’t look like us,” Klug said.

To read a previous article about the forum, click here.