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Nonprofits Want More Engagement With Pittsburgh School Board Elections

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

Less than 20 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the last four Pittsburgh school board elections, according to a coalition of 17 groups trying to get out the vote in the second largest school district in Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Public School District controls a $650 million budget and the nine members enact everything from policies that determine curricula, to how students are disciplined.

There could soon be at least three new decision makers on the school board. Three of the four current members up for reelection have said they will not run.

Voters will decide who holds seats in districts 2, 4, 6 and 8.

The district 2 seat is held by former board president and principal Regina Holley. The district represents parts of the North Side, Highland Park, East Liberty, Lawrenceville and Bloomfield.

Current board president Lynda Wrenn represents district 4 which includes Squirrel Hill, parts of Oakland, Point Breeze and parts of Shadyside.

District 6 serves southern neighborhoods including Brookline, Beechview, Banksville, Mt. Washington and East Carnegie. Moira Kaleida currently holds that position.

Kevin Carter is the only current member who sought the endorsement of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. District 8 represents the Northside neighborhoods of Manchester, Northview Heights and California-Kirkbride as well as parts of the Hill District and Downtown.

Potential school board candidates that live in those districts are only required to collect 10 signatures to get on the ballot.  

Esther Bush represents one of the partner organizations, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. She said she hopes potential candidates know the difference between equity and equality when trying to make change in a district with a history of academic achievement gaps.

“I want to know that they understand the distribution of thinking, resources, etc. are different per community. And to find out the why and make adjustments,” she said.

James Fogarty, executive director of education-advocacy group A-Plus Schools, said he wants board members focused on equity and committed to quality.

“Are they monitoring data and understanding how to use their position as an oversight body for the school district to really help the superintendent and his staff think critically about some of the ways in which they are educating students and how they can be helpful in that,” he said.

The coalition is hosting a candidates’ forum in April and will also distribute a voter’s guide. The primary election is May 21.