A mess of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ own making

A mess of Pittsburgh Public Schools’ own making

The Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education this week is expected to vote on a 3 percent property tax increase for the financially and academically troubled district.

But there’s woefully little evidence to even remotely suggest that the district deserves any tax increase.

Indeed, the district is citing a projected $56 million-plus budget deficit come 2022. But that’s an indictment of how the district has been operated and certainly no valid certificate of need. (And do note that the $156 million in pandemic-relief that the district has received cannot be used to fill budget holes).

PPS has done little to rein in expenses and the bloat of its bricks-and-mortar inventory is legendarily bad (a 50 percent overcapacity by one accounting).

And in a period of declining enrollment (15 percent since 2015), staff has increased by 14 percent in the same period.

Cost per pupil? An astounding $31,265 annually (when other local school districts of great academic distinction do that job for less than half that).

Administration after administration has appeared to be more concerned about its own perks than sound district operations.

Academics appear to have become an afterthought. Unfair? Hardly. Eighty percent of all students don’t meet basic acceptable standards in core subjects.

Absenteeism remains chronically high.

Discipline has become a nightmare, especially with a school board that insist on coddling disruptive behavior instead of instituting swift and certain disciplinary action that would serve to blunt continuing disruptions that have become violent.

And those are just the highlights of the lowlights.

The 3 percent property tax to be voted upon this week is the highest that PPS can impose without state approval. That 3 percent is expected to raise an estimated $5.3 million in 2022.

Gene Walker, in a minority of four board members who appear opposed to any tax hike, calls proceeds from the proposed tax hike akin to “putting a Band-Aid over a torn ACL.”

“We need to go in and do reconstructive surgery to fix this problem, and a Band-Aid isn’t going to fix it,” he said.

Kevin Carter, the school board’s finance and budget committee chair, and one of five school directors in the majority appearing to favor the tax hike, bemoans a state takeover of Pittsburgh Public Schools as soon as 2023 if the district can’t maintain a state-ordered fund balance minimum.

“It’s not fun, it’s not easy to ask for tax increases,” Carter says, according to a Post-Gazette report. “But without those tax increases, we risk putting ourselves into a financial position that could possibly land us into state control, by which none of our board positions matter, none of our administration positions matter.”

Sorry, Mr. Carter, but blaming the lack of tax increase for all your woes is like a teenager killing his parents and then lamenting that he’s an orphan.

Iteration after iteration of PPS school boards and administrations has led the district to this precipice. None of the board’s positions and none of the administration’s positions has mattered for years – except negatively.

And the proof is in the shambles that Pittsburgh Public Schools finds itself in today.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).