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Education Group Rallies to Support Pittsburgh Students and Save the Most Effective Teachers

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Due to budget cuts, Pittsburgh Public Schools will cut some 400 teaching positions next year. Currently, the ones on the chopping block are largely the teachers with the least experience.

"In some schools that will mean that they will lose 30% to 50% of their teachers this year," said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, an education advocacy group, "and some schools are our most vulnerable schools — schools like King, Faison, Arlington, Manchester — schools that can't afford that much turnover."

A Tuesday night rally at Schenley Plaza in Oakland will bring together education advocates, school officials and community members to demand that the school district and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers "do what's best for students." Harris said what is best is making sure the most effective teachers stay in the classroom.

"We're asking the district and the union to keep seniority, we get that. Seniority matters, but we're asking them to add in effectiveness to factor some other things into the decision making. We think we can make these decisions with seniority plus," said Harris.

And, Harris added, teacher evaluations done last year provided a strong tool to measure teacher effectiveness. 80% of teachers interviewed after the evaluations said they felt they were fair. She said they should be part of the equation in determining who gets furloughed.

"Teachers feel pretty confident about it, and that's why we feel confident about it. If we spend a lot of time and money developing teacher evaluations and measures of effectiveness and our teachers feel good about it, then we think we ought to be using those to make a difficult decision," said Harris.

Teachers chosen for furlough will get notifications starting later this month, and final notice this summer. Harris said those who lose their jobs will be the first to get them back if they open up again, but added the outlook isn't great.

"The district is not growing. Hopefully it's stabilizing in terms of its enrollment. We would expect there would be some teachers called back over time as other teachers retire, but if we're looking at a younger workforce, I don't think it's reasonable to expect that they're going to stick around and wait for jobs to open in Pittsburgh Public Schools," said Harris.

In addition to Tuesday's rally, A+ Schools is encouraging supporters to make their voices heard by writing letters, sending emails, taking to Facebook and Twitter, and testifying in public hearings, but the district must work around a growing budget deficit that's expected to grow by nearly $10 million by 1015.