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PPS interim Superintendent Wayne Walters says there’s room for him to make change during tenure

Isabelle Schmeler
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: Interim Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Walters, whose appointment is for a year, talks about building trust among families as the district searches for a permanent replacement; a Post-Gazette investigation found more than half of apartment complexes managed by the city’s Housing Authority failed their latest federal inspections; and a PNC Bank survey of small and mid-sized businesses nationwide found owners and managers are optimistic about the future, particularly those with vaccinated employees. 

Wayne Walters takes over as interim superintendent for Pittsburgh Public Schools
(0:00 - 8:06)

For the past 30 years, Wayne Walters has held roles in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district from elementary school teacher to principal of four different schools and served as assistant superintendent. He was recently appointed as interim superintendent for a year following the resignation of Anthony Hamlet.

“I think the board has allowed me the space to do what is necessary to create healing and stabilization in our district and community,” says Walters.

He says in his short tenure he wants to improve options for student transportation and continue with COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

“Trust has to be earned,” says Walters. “I believe in honesty, I believe in honoring those commitments, and I also believe in admitting when I’m wrong, publicly if I need to.”

The district’s ongoing bus driver shortage has pushed back the school year and forced the board to stagger start times for school days so drivers can perform multiple routes in the morning.

Another immediate challenge for the district is balancing its budget. Walters says his chief financial officer proposed possible options include a reduction in staff, or re-examining feeder patterns (which determines the school students attend based on their residence) and property tax rates.

Post-Gazette investigation finds ongoing problems in city’s public housing
(8:09 - 15:37)

More than half of public housing complexes operated by the Pittsburgh Housing Authority failed the required federal Housing and Urban Development inspections.

A recent investigation from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette uncovered this, and explores how the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, which manages these complexes, got to this point.

The complexes in question encompass nearly 2,000 housing units.

“We visited four of the largest housing complexes in Pittsburgh, and people there showed us deficiencies in their apartments,” says Ashley Murray, reporter with the Post-Gazette. The problems were extensive: mold on the ceilings and walls, broken bathroom fixtures, and one couple even had mushrooms growing from their kitchen ceiling.

Murray says the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh CEO, Caster Binion, told the reporters the problems were not due to a lack of attentive management, but due to the aging infrastructure of the buildings themselves. Binion also told the reporters that tenants sometimes neglect to alert the authority of problems before they get out of hand.

“That was sort of counter to what we heard from residents,” says Jacobs. “Many of them said, ‘We did let the Housing Authority know and they were either slow to respond or didn’t really fix the underlying issues.’”

Murray and Jacobs reviewed documents showing residents made complaints of issues, and one resident even called the Health Department, which visited six times over eight months and cited issues in their unit.

“We could see in the records that the [Pittsburgh] Housing Authority was marking these issues as ‘Closed,’ on the work order records,” says Murray. “So a lot of the same issues were just showing up repeatedly.”

Since the investigation was published, tenant advocates are calling for the resignation of the Housing Authority’s CEO, and improved conditions at the public housing sites.

Small and mid-size businesses with vaccinated employees are optimistic about economic outlook
(15:40 - 22:30)

Almost 70% of Pennsylvanians ages 18 and up are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.

Since the rollout of the vaccines for COVID-19, small business optimism has grown. A recent nationwide survey from PNC bank polled small and midsize business owners this August to find out more about their economic outlook.

“What we found is that those businesses that had a higher share of their workers vaccinated, the managers, the owners, they were much more optimistic about the outlook for their businesses prospects over the next six months or so,” says Gus Faucher, PNC’s chief economist.

Faucher says a third of businesses polled considered hiring and staffing to be a critical issue. He says that may be due to a concern by some about getting COVID-19 while on the job, while other parents may be staying home due to school and childcare concerns.

“We are seeing higher prices throughout the economy,” says Faucher, in part due to labor shortages and additional supply constraints. “I think most of these price pressures are going to prove to be temporary.”

PNC’s survey results came from 500 businesses nationwide, but Faucher says it’s a good indicator of the trends in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I think we will continue to see a recovery locally just as we continue to see a recovery nationally.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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