Pittsburgh Public superintendent offers resignation amid ethics controversy

The resignation will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2021.

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Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet at a May 22, 2019 school board meeting. (Photo by Terry Clark/PublicSource)

Two weeks after a state ethics commission found violations, and with mounting tensions, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet submitted a resignation notice to the school board, effective Oct. 1.

The resignation comes about one year after Hamlet’s contract was renewed, and five years after he joined the district.

“After much thought and consideration and because, in light of current circumstances, I think it is presently the best thing for our students and families, I believe that now is the time for my tenure to come to an end and to embark upon a new chapter of my professional life,” Hamlet said in his letter to the school board.

The board is expected to accept Hamlet’s resignation at a special legislative meeting on Sept. 14, and announce an interim leader on Sept. 29.

At a Wednesday press conference, school board President Sylvia Wilson said the outcome was “unfortunate but necessary.”

“This course of action creates an opportunity to remain focused” on district students while eliminating unnecessary distractions, she said. She noted that the resignation was Hamlet’s choice. “This was not a forced action.”

Hamlet’s resignation represents the crest of mounting frustrations throughout his tenure. In June 2020, a group of 55 Black women asked the board to not renew his contract, citing concerns about financial management, COVID crisis management and continued poor academic outcomes. More than 2,600 people signed an online Change.org petition opposing the renewal of Hamlet’s contract last August. Numerous parents asked the district to cut ties with Hamlet in the days ahead of the board’s vote for renewal, frustrated with the transition to virtual learning and inconsistent communication to parents from district leaders. Following a turbulent year of remote learning and technology challenges, parental upset grew in recent months, as the district announced a last-minute delay to the upcoming school year, transportation shortages and changes to school start times, which all prompted protest, petitions and letters to school district leadership.

At the conference, Wilson praised Hamlet’s inclusion of student perspective in school system decisions and his efforts for more culturally-responsive practices and culturally competent curriculum.

The board declined to give insights into its private discussions about ethics violations found by a state commission, citing personnel issues. Hamlet was found to have “negligently” and “technically” violated state ethics laws by the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, which concluded its two-year investigation on Aug. 26. At the time, Hamlet and his personal lawyer celebrated that the commission didn’t find intentional misconduct or wrongdoing.

However, district leaders said some changes have already been made to procedures and processes to address issues raised in the commission report.

The board will begin a national search for a new superintendent in December, following the November board election which is likely to change the makeup of the school board.

Hamlet will receive one year's salary plus the actual value of his benefits, totaling $399,687, according to district solicitor Ira Weiss.

The Black Women for a Better Education [BWFBE] said in a Wednesday statement that the resignation has brought the district to a critical crossroads.

While BWFBE is relieved Hamlet's departure will allow for “a course correction,” or opportunity to improve outcomes, the group said that the damage that has been done to students, parents and the larger community “will need all hands on deck to repair.” They called on the board to give “careful and intentional” consideration to appointing an interim superintendent.

The group said it’s critical the national superintendent search “be done above board through a reputable bidding and engagement process to avoid the mistakes that were committed in the past.”

Hamlet’s 2016 hiring at PPS began under fire, with criticism and questions about his credentials, plagiarism accusations and an independent investigation. A motion to cancel his employment contract was voted down by a majority of the board.

“It is time to turn the page and move forward. With a renewed focus on improving student success and eliminating the racial achievement gap, there are bright days ahead for the children and families of Pittsburgh Public Schools," Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb said following the resignation announcement.

Lamb was among those who questioned whether the board knew about violations prior to a contract renewal. Weiss said that while the board was aware of the investigation it wasn’t privy to the progress or contents of the findings.

TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org or on Twitter at @tylisawrites.

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