Three new members say they hope to bring fresh perspectives to the Pittsburgh Public Schools board as it prepares for budget challenges and possible school closures.
Yael Silk, Emma Yourd and Dwayne Barker were all but guaranteed seats on the board when the polls opened this morning with no competitors on the ballot. Mail-in ballot totals gave no indication of the emergence of any write-in challengers.
Incumbent board members Pamela Harbin, Kevin Carter and William Gallagher of districts 4, 6 and 8 did not run for new terms.
Dwayne Barker, a community organizer, said he will work to bring all school buildings up to date and strengthen community engagement in the district.
— Dwayne Barker
“I believe that some of these schools that are winning, some things need to be, you know, adjusted. … The ones that are in a school like Westinghouse are probably suffering because other schools have the ability to be comfortable. And it’s not fair.”
Emma Yourd, an education and workforce development manager, said she wants to make changes at the policy level for student mental health and equitable distribution of resources.
Yael Silk, executive director of Arts Education Collaborative and candidate for District 4, said she wants to ensure more transparency and accountability about allocation of funds and resources.
“If we’re going to have something like a CAPA, I think it’s really important that we also have neighborhood schools where … you will have had the learning opportunities available to you to successfully get into CAPA without the supplemental need for private lessons or extracurriculars.”— Yael Silk
PPS is heading into a difficult budget season — projecting a growing operating deficit, increased building overhead and operations costs, increasing charter school costs and expiration of federal COVID relief funds. Currently, the district has no concrete plan for stabilizing its deficit.
All three candidates said they would work with the current school board members to examine and understand the district’s finances. Silk and Barker called for a financial audit to ensure that the district is funded equitably. Yourd said she will work at rightsizing the school budgets and examine the allocation of funds to charter schools.
“The current board and the board members that are getting voted in are very aware of the community trauma that was caused by the shuttering of schools under previous administrations. And so we’re very cognizant of that and want to make sure that any decisions that are made are made with full transparency and accountability to the community.”— Emma Yourd
The district has seen steady enrollment decline since 2012. Nearly all of the district’s school buildings are less than half full and the district has enough unused seating capacity for more than 19,000 students. The current school board has resumed talks of school closures.
“You want to certainly figure out the best practices for consolidation. And then from there, you want to figure out strategies to actually get these families into the proper places and spaces that are going to best serve them.”— Dwayne Barker
The new candidates said their priority will be to gather community input before making decisions about closing schools. Barker said the district can partner with the city to convert schools that might be shut into affordable housing so the district can retain students who are moving out to the suburbs.
“We cannot sustain the number of buildings that we currently have … and district leadership needs to come up with a plan where we have properly equipped learning spaces for our children, for our school adults and that we have that in a way that is also financially sustainable.”— Yael Silk
Lajja Mistry is the K-12 education reporter at PublicSource. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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