A large deficit, state budget cuts and decreasing enrollment at Pittsburgh Public Schools has lead to a proposal that could close two Northside public schools by 2012.

The Pittsburgh Public School District hopes transform itself from a system of small schools with varied educational quality to a system of quality schools that operate more cost efficiently.  To do this, the school board proposed a plan that would close seven schools, including the Northside’s Oliver High School and Northview PreK-8.

The plan proposes that Oliver’s 344 students to move to Perry High School, and special education offices and the McNaugher Education Center would move into the Oliver building. Northview PreK-8 students would be divided and reassigned to Morrow Pre-K-8 and King Pre-K-8. No plans have been announced for Northview’s building.

The plan also proposed that Brighton Heights’ Morrow Elementary to split into a PreK-4 in the Morrow building and a 5-8 in the Rooney building, which is currently not being used as a school.

The earliest possible board vote on this proposal would be November 22, 2011. If approved, the plan would take effect no earlier than the 2012-2013 school year.

The proposal was created to decrease the estimated $41.2 million dollar deficit that the public schools currently faces and to decrease the number of empty seats in the district from 10,191 to 5,902.

“I think the thing that we want to emphasize is that, as many people know by now, we have a serious financial situation on our hands,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendant Dr. Linda Lane. “We’re taking a number of steps to address the under-utilization of our schools and classrooms, and if this proposal passes, it will be the first portion of our plan to get our schools to be fiscally stable.”

If the proposal passes, Perry High School will go from being a full magnet, where all students have applied and take more challenging classes, to a partial magnet, where the school will house magnet-program students and regular feeder-pattern students.

The district hopes that combining Oliver and Perry would give an advantage to kids at Oliver who Lane said are “capable and willing” to take more advanced classes that are not offered at Oliver because of its small enrollment.  

However, the district addressed that there would be challenges to merging Oliver and Perry.

“You don’t lightly go about combining two high schools, said Lane, who said that if the proposal passed measures would be taken to help smooth the transition and work with the students to help them get to know and accept each other.

Pittsburgh Public Schools currently has over 10,000 empty seats in the district caused by population decreases and parents choosing alternatives to public schools. In the past 50 years, enrollment in the Pittsburgh Public School District has fallen from around 75,000 students to under 30,000.

Though Oliver High School currently has the smallest high school class sizes in the district, averaging 10-23 students per class, only 24.2 percent of students were at proficient or advanced levels on the PSSA reading tests and only 17.4 percent scored proficient or advanced in math last year.

The Northside Leadership conference advocated to keep Manchester PreK-8 open and for Morrow to be split into two buildings, both of which were included in the proposal.

There will be a series of public meetings throughout the next three months for community members to address their concerns about the proposal. The district will hold a public hearing on August 22 to discuss the proposal.

“The committee hopes that Northsiders are going to speak up and say what they want and what they don’t want,” said NSLC Executive Director Mark Fatla.