Pittsburgh Public Schools’ public disservice

Pittsburgh Public Schools’ public disservice

So, whatever happened to the concept of transparency in the conduct of the public’s business? It appears to have taken a holiday in Pittsburgh.

You’ll recall that when Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) began its now-concluded search for a new superintendent, it promised transparency in the process.

There was little to none.

Oh, indeed, it held “listening sessions” with district “stakeholders” to allow their views on “what they sought” in a new PPS leader. But when it came to real transparency, there certainly wasn’t much sunlight.

When the pool of candidates was winnowed to a handful, their names were kept from the public. District officials argued that it would be unfair to those job candidates to have their names released, considering they were in positions elsewhere.

It was a matter of “respect,” we were told. Never mind, as we criticized PPS officials at least twice in this process, that their actions showed no respect for district taxpayers – you know, those supposedly all-important “stakeholders” — who foot the bill.

To allay those concerns, the district promised that, once the new superintendent had been chosen, the names of the other finalists would be made public.

Interim Superintendent Wayne Walters, a longtime district teacher and administrator, was named the permanent super last week. He’s been awarded a handsome five-year contract with built-in raises that will pay him a cool $1.13 million over the contract’s life. He starts his job today, Aug. 1.

Cue the theme music to “Final Jeopardy”; there’s still been no public release of the names of the other four finalists. And that’s simply wrong.

The public has every right to know who the other finalists were. In fact, it had every right to know who the pool of nearly 30 candidates were, picked by a search firm that the public paid for.

And that was just part of the lack of transparency.

If Pittsburgh Public Schools truly respected taxpayers and other “stakeholders,” it would have, as have other school districts and institutions of higher learning nationwide, held public meetings with the finalists — allowing them to make their case, allowing the public to get to know their options.

Wayne Walters comes to the PPS superintendency with a long pedigree. And while he is said to have garnered much support from district employees and school directors to win the job, he is a product – a 30-year product – of a long dysfunctional district.

That dysfunctionality has manifested itself in decades of very poor academic results, chronic absenteeism, an unacceptably high dropout rate and, not to forget, severe operational failings on the business side.

Were their better candidates, those who could have brought a fresh perspective on how to fix the utter mess that PPS is?

We’ll apparently never know. And that’s not only a failing grade for this process, it’s a gross disservice to everyone.

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