Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Schoolhouse Rocks

From the P-G-est P-G that ever P-G'd:

The Pittsburgh Public Schools board has approved changes aimed at making the district more financially sustainable, including closing seven schools, opening a new elementary school, eliminating single-gender classes at Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12, selling two school buildings and changing some school feeder patterns.

The school assignment changes approved Tuesday night are for the next school year.

Ultimately, the changes are part of a plan that calls for eliminating about 400 school-based and central office positions to stem the district's growing operating deficit...

The two schools which the board agreed to sell are Pittsburgh Reizenstein in Shadyside to Walnut Capital and RCG Longview for $5.4 million, and the Ridge Avenue building on the North Side to the Light of Life Ministries for $1.1 million.

The Reizenstein developers plan to demolish the building and replace it with a $119 million development that includes housing as well as office and retail space.

The board rejected bids on Schenley in Oakland, Belmar in Homewood, Madison in the Hill District, Mann on the North Side and Morningside.

The new K-8 school approved Wednesday will be in the building now housing Pittsburgh Langley High School in Sheraden, which will close at the end of this school year. Langley High students will be reassigned to Pittsburgh Brashear in Beechview...

In addition to Langley High School, schools that will close at the end of June are:

• Pittsburgh Oliver High School on the North Side, with students assigned to nearby Pittsburgh Perry, which will continue its magnet program open to students throughout the city. Some students will travel to the Oliver building for career and technology programs as well as for JROTC.

• Fort Pitt PreK-5 in Garfield, with students assigned to Pittsburgh Arsenal PreK-5 in Lawrenceville, Woolslair K-5 in Lawrenceville and Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park.

• Pittsburgh Schaeffer K-8 in Crafton Heights, with students assigned to the new K-8 school in the Langley building. Both the Schaeffer and Sheraden buildings that housed Schaeffer K-8 will close.

• Pittsburgh Stevens K-8 in Elliott, with students assigned to the new K-8 in Langley, Westwood K-5 and South Hills 6-8 in Beechview...
So, if you're counting: that's one high school left on the Northside, none left in the Western neighborhoods, and the elimination of 3 grade schools in the West (taking the number down to 3, I believe).

Now, I don't begrudge the BoE for reducing school space; a declining population necessitates fewer capital resources (i.e., you don't need as many school buildings). Further, I don't necessarily want to get into the discussion of whether neighborhood schools are the model that Pittsburgh should be trying to use; I'd say that there are benefits to that and benefits to larger feeder patterns.

What I'm concerned about, however, is the larger amount of real estate that that's under the control of the BoE that now going to be vacant. These are now, like Schenley H.S. before them, going to be large, vacant, money sucking holes in the Schools District's budget; while there may not be students in there, you still have to light them, heat them, secure them, and make sure, in general, they don't fall down.

I guess my complaint here is that the BoE is making its decisions in a vacuum: the closing of these schools will have a long term effect on the economic conditions of several of these neighborhoods. Without a plan to figure out the next highest and best use for these properties, they will continue to sit as vacant, non-tax revenue generating properties. Now, you would hope that they would enter into this with some sort of end game that both divests themselves of these loser properties and helps out their colleagues in the City Government to generate some economic development.

But this is the School District; anything other than education is furthest from their minds.

Well, education is definitely in the top ten, anyway.

Anyway, my point is that as one of the major landowners of non-taxable properties in the City of Pittsburgh, I can only hope that the BoE has some sort of plan as to how they're going to deal with these properties.

My guess is that they don't and our School District taxes are going to go towards unnecessary expenses.

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