Re-ordering Pittsburgh Public Schools

Re-ordering Pittsburgh Public Schools

The chief financial officer of Pittsburgh Public Schools is warning that the city school district soon could face a $40 million-plus deficit and must take action, the Post-Gazette reports.

“We have to have these conversations now,” Ronald Joseph told the school board last week. “If we don’t, we accept that we’re waiting for someone else to correct this issue for us, and it may not be the best remedy that we imagine.”

Previously, the district had talked of, but rejected, a tax increase – save a small increase in 2019, the first in five years – and workforce reductions.

And it is in the district’s workforce that some deficit-reducing answers must be found. You might even say it’s elementary.

As Joseph notes, staffing has increased by about 14 percent since 2015 but enrollment is down about 15 percent in the same period. But there’s anecdotal evidence that the student population loss is far greater.

By the district CFO’s calculations, aligning that workforce to the admitted-to student census would allow for the elimination of 650 positions. If the loss of students is greater, so, too, should be the number of shed positions.

If that’s not a no-brainer we don’t know what is.

Yet Joseph balks at such a move, at least in the short run, talking of the need to return to educational normalcy in staffing in the post-pandemic era because of students’ instructional losses during Covid’s darker days.

Never mind that anything resembling instructional “gains” prior to the pandemic were anything to write home about, he calls staff reductions now “counter-productive.”

And, what the hey, Joseph adds, federal stimulus dollars could help stave off the need for staff reductions for at least a year. The district has received at least $160 million in pandemic-relief funding.

So much for not wanting the proverbial “someone else” to solve the deficit problem for you, right? And there can be nothing more “counter-productive” than to rely on one-time funds to delay the inevitable cost-control necessities.

Now, the giant circus elephant in the room remains the district’s outrageously high per-pupil spending and its outrageously low academic performance.

And it still talks of the possibility of raising taxes? There are some critical thinking skills, eh? Cue the circus clowns.

The time for what we’ll call “The Great Re-ordering of Pittsburgh Public Schools” is decades overdue. Throwing any more public money down this educational rat hole only enables a status quo that serves no one – except a long line of administrators and hangers-on whose report card should feature a large red “F.”

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