A reminder for the Wilkinsburg school board chief

A reminder for the Wilkinsburg school board chief

In a July 1 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed, the chairman of the Wilkinsburg School Board waxed exuberantly over the progress at Wilkinsburg schools. The op-ed should have adopted a more cautionary tone—more like back from the brink.

The situation in Wilkinsburg over the 10 years prior to 2015 was a complete disaster. Enrollment plunged by over half as students left for other options or moved away and academic achievement slipped to levels that can barely be called achievement. Indeed, they were among the worst in the state, including huge numbers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia schools where PSSA scores hardly register.

And to make matters worse, the cost per student in Wilkinsburg soared as enrollment plunged and spending did not. In the last school year for which official Pennsylvania Department of Education data are available, Wilkinsburg spent $28 million to educate a total of 756 students, including paying Pittsburgh schools for the 200 or so 7th-to-12th graders who are attending Pittsburgh schools—principally Westinghouse Academy, the worst performing school in Pittsburgh.

That works out to a preposterous $37,000 per student. Student-teacher ratios are at 10 or lower in several poorly performing schools.

Wonder why the board chairman forgot to mention those facts in his op-ed? Avoiding this startling information, he bestows kudos on himself that are simply carefully selected talking points.

Sixteen students are attending magnets, the best schools in the city. This means 16 students from Pittsburgh were denied enrollment.  Undoubtedly, these Wilkinsburg students will perform better than those stuck at Westinghouse.  Bear in mind that it does not take much improvement in a few students to make the percentage gain for all students look good since the average is starting from such a low base figure.

One understands the desire to toot one’s own horn. But this paean to self is premature and is not as honest as it should be.