Pittsburgh Public Schools held a special public hearing Monday night where community members and parents voiced their opinions about the eight proposed school closings – which include Northview PreK-8 and Oliver High School.
All of the six speakers addressed or expressed concern about the proposed school closings in the Northside which would take place in the 2012-2013 school year if approved.
City Council President Darlene Harris spoke first and addressed the possible consequences that school closings could have on the city.
Harris noted that as city council president, she knows the fabric of the city and understand that it is “stretched as far as it can go.”
Though she acknowledged the challenges of budget cuts and population decline, she warned the school board that the cutbacks, if not handled responsibly, may only further these problems because the schools are “a driving force in the city.”
“The more we cut, the more we close, the more we could be causing a decline in population,” she said. “The board holds the future of the city in its hands. We just have to decide correctly.”
Following Harris, another Northside resident, President of Northview Heights Citizens Council Inc. Valerie Lauw, spoke and addressed the closing of Northview PreK-8.
As a parent, Lauw noted that she was in “total support of the public school system,” but questioned if closing Northview was the right choice for the neighborhood, which has grown by 200 residents in the past year.
“We all want to be close to our children, especially when they’re being educated,” she told the board noting that filtering Northview students into King Pre-K-8 and Morrow Pre-K-8 would place them farther from their parents and bussing the students would be an expense to the district.
The Northside Leadership Conference Executive Director Mark Fatla and The Northside Community Development Fund Executive Director Mark Masterson both noted that they had not anticipated Northview as a school that would be closed, but supported the decision to reorganize Morrow and keep Manchester Elementary open.
Both organizations withheld comments regarding Northview until they saw the feeder patterns for the neighborhood.
Masterson requested that the school board to “really take a look at the buildings that are closed,” in the Northside. He said that the previous closings, like Observatory Hill’s Chatham Elementary in 2006, were “flawed” because the buildings were left unused.
“Please don’t do what you did last time, as it was detrimental to the community,” he said.
Another speaker, Lisa Freeman of the Manchester Elementary School PTA, expressed her sympathy for Northview, and made the point that cuts should be about more than just simple head counts.
Freeman said that Manchester has only 200 students, so it would seem to be “under capacity,” but it has five auxiliary classes that it uses. She also noted that though enrollment is up at Manchester, funding is not.
“Why is the money not following the children,” she asked in anticipation of receiving Northview students.
The final speaker, Deshauna Ponton stood in opposition to the closing of Oliver High School.
She pointed out the school’s positive attributes, such as an award-winning ROTC program, a cosmetology program, family movie nights and evening computer classes for adults that she saw while her son was at Oliver. She also recalled his positive experience there.
“It was not an abnormality to receive a phone call at nine or ten o’clock at night about my son to say he was doing poorly or doing well,” Ponton said. “My potentially failing student is now a college student who started his first day today.”
After her three minutes was up, she added, “don’t break something that isn’t broken.”
The earliest possible board vote on this proposal would be November 22 of this year.
More on school closings
School closings possible for Oliver and Northview