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A+ Schools looking for volunteers to monitor Pittsburgh School Board

 


As three new school board members are sworn into office, A+ Schools is asking residents to pay attention.

“The school board manages more money than the City of Pittsburgh, educates more students than any other entity in our region, and is a powerful force in our local economy,” said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools.

For the past six years, A+ Schools’ Board Watch program has trained volunteers to grade the school board on different dimensions of governance. In that time Board Watch volunteers have consistently given the Board their lowest marks in Role Clarity, with the board receiving two D+ grades in this area in the last two report cards.

Volunteers will be asked to track some specific metrics that A+ Schools will help the board better focus on their role as policy makers. Volunteers are needed to track how the board is addressing stubborn and persistent gaps in student achievement, ongoing financial concerns, and how well the board is engaging and interacting with the community.

The “Whole Child, Whole Community” plan adopted by the board in 2014 lays out clearly measurable goals related to kindergarten readiness, elementary literacy, algebra readiness, Pittsburgh Promise, college and career readiness and developmental skills and habits.

“We’re not seeing these goals monitored by the board on a regular basis,” said Ms. Harris. “Our volunteers will be looking for evidence that the board is working with its administration and using specific achievement targets and benchmarks to achieve these laudable goals for student success.”

For the past few years, A+ Schools has urged the district to provide a more transparent view into how it invests in students’ education. Today, A+ Schools urges the board to move to a student based budgeting system that will be transparent, predictable and based on the number of students, weighted for student needs much like the funding formula being advocated for at the State.

Such a budgeting approach can come with increased flexibility at the school level and enable principals to design schools that truly meet student needs. The district’s current budgeting system is neither transparent nor flexible with more than half of expenditures not allocated directly to schools or on a per pupil basis.

In order to prepare every student to thrive after high school, PPS must budget in ways that provide resources focused on students’ needs rather than on past practice.

Said Ms. Harris, “The budget is one of the largest policy documents the board acts upon; it is imperative that the budget is transparent and reflects smart spending priorities that advance student outcomes. Providing greater transparency into the budgeting process will increase a sense of public confidence that the board is managing public dollars carefully.”

As the new school board embarks on its work to govern this $567.9 million dollar organization with 3,900 employees and 23,000 K-12 students – all while searching for a new leader – it must attend to greater transparency. A+ Schools is urging the new board to demonstrate accountability to voters and taxpayers by making its decision processes explicit and transparent.

In addition, the organization wants publicly funded cell phone numbers and emails to be publicly available so voters can directly contact members with questions and concerns. Currently constituents do not have direct access to district issued mobile phones for board members.

In addition to these new policy goals, Board Watch volunteers are trained to be attentive observers and keen evaluators looking for indicators of effective Board governance.

These indicators include:

• Focus and Mission: Board is focused on achieving its goals’

• Transparency: Board processes are accessible to the public;

• Conduct: Conflict is managed respectfully;

• Role Clarity: Board provides policy leadership and oversight; and

• Competency: Board members are informed.

As A+ Schools monitors these goals, it will continue to provide the board and the public a quarterly report card that provides feedback the board can use to improve their practice.

Interested volunteers can sign up at http://www.aplusschools.org or by contacting Mollie Pollack, A+ Schools Volunteer Coordinator at mpollack@aplusschools.org or 412-697-1298 ext. 101.

 

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