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In Pittsburgh Budget Address Mayor Says School District Should Be In State Oversight

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
Mayor Bill Peduto formally announcing the proposed 2020 budget on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019

At a city budget address Tuesday Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he thinks the state should take over the city school district’s finances. 

Oversight of a school district requires proof of financial distress and legislation. Pittsburgh Public Schools isn’t currently on the state’s watch list.

The district operates independently from the city with an elected nine-member board. But in 2004 when Pittsburgh was financially distressed, the state diverted earned income tax revenue from PPS to the city.

In a discussion last week about the district’s 2020 budget, school board members and administrators said they wanted that money returned.

PPS Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said he hasn’t spoken with city administrators yet.  

“We will want to go to Harrisburg first and ask those questions about the viability of us getting those funds back. We’ve been told to have a conversation with the city which we will begin to do,” he said.  

Peduto said that money belongs to the city.

The district recently reached out to Peduto and he plans to meet with Hamlet to discuss its financial situation.

“But if they simply say we’re going to take your revenue to fix our hole and not be the leaders that they were elected to be, in making tough decisions like raising taxes, then I have no time for that, absolutely none and I will fight them in Harrisburg.”

The district’s budget proposal suggests raising taxes by 2.3 percent in order to avoid financial oversight.

In response to Peduto's comments Tuesday PPS spokesperson Ebony Pugh said the district completes annual audits in addition to the state's periodic audits. 

“There have been no significant issues raised related to how the District conducts its finances,” she said in a statement.  

City budget

The proposed $608 million city budget includes three substations for the police bureau, to be located downtown, in Homewood and on the South Side. The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police anticipates three new recruitment classes, and new body cameras

In Tuesday’s announcement Peduto also mentioned One PGH, a non-profit fund created to tackle issues like hunger, homelessness and universal Pre-K. Peduto said they will announce details on the first phase of the initiatives in the upcoming weeks. 

While he wouldn't disclose details, Peduto said they will entail "a plan to work together in a unified way to address the major that this city faces outside of city government." 

"I think what we can present next time is not only something that will be specific to what the needs are," he said. "But how we can actually work together and show what the immediate first three years' priorities will be. And at the same time, all the working documents that got us there." 

One PGH has been delayed since 2014, and Peduto said the idea behind it is to "all hold hands, say we're working together and this is what we're working toward." 

"Nothing will be set in stone," he said. "I don't want people to think that it's going to be like the tablets being delivered to Moses.  This is years and years of all of those different reports ... whether it's the gender equity study or the black elected officials report ... pulling all of that together in order to determine where the problems are."  

Critics from the Economic Justice Circle of Pittsburgh said they are concerned about widening economic and racial disparities in the city. 

In an emailed response to the budged proposal, Jamil Bey of the UrbanKind Institute said they appreciate the administration's efforts to make Pittsburgh inclusive and livable for all residents, but the proposed budget doesn't focus on affordable housing and needed infrastructure in low-income communities. 

The proposed budget now goes to Pittsburgh City Council; hearings on the budget begin Nov. 20. A final vote on the budget will take place Dec. 17.