When the Pittsburgh School Board voted to lay off nearly 300 teachers July 25, the vote was a unanimous 6-0, even if directors Mark Brentley, Sharene Shealey and Regina Holley had attended it would not have made a difference.
The furloughs, it is hoped, will save the district more than $42 million through the next two years. Even so, Brentley said the cuts disproportionally target Black students and he would have voted against them.
“Knowing I was going to be out of town at the National Urban League convention, I tried to vote in advance at the previous meeting,” said Brentley. “I’d have voted no had I been there because decisions and recommendations are being made on race, period.”
In total, the furlough list includes 176 K-12 teachers and other professionals, 14 pre-K teachers, 59 paraprofessionals, 12 adjuncts, 10 other pre-K professionals and nine technical-clerical workers.
Though there was no breakdown of how many were African-Americans, there was a breakdown of where they had worked. And the schools with the most layoffs serve mostly African-American students.
Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood lost the most, 14 teachers, followed by Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12 in the Hill District with 11 and Pittsburgh Westinghouse 6-12 in Homewood with nine furloughs.
As the New Pittsburgh Courier reported in May, Superintendent of Schools Linda Lane asked the Pittsburgh Teachers Federation to alter its seniority-based layoff requirement, but failed. So when these cuts were finalized, the least experienced teachers were let go.
That means Black students are being shortchanged again, said School Director Sharene Shealey.
“It’s troubling that our least experienced teachers are in the majority Black schools,” she said. “There’s something wrong with structure if we can’t put the best teachers where they are needed most.”
Shealey said she would have voted for the teacher furloughs because the district had no choice. But she would not have voted to eliminate the nine paraprofessionals tasked with getting families more involved with their children’s education.
“The entire corps of parent engagement specialist was let go,” she said. “So I am very disappointed. I think people of Pittsburgh need to have a say what matters when picking our teachers. I don’t think seniority is the most telling factor.”
Regina Holly, who was on vacation, said she would not have supported any of the furloughs and agreed with Shealey that cutting the parent engagement staff was a big mistake.
“I would not have voted for that,” she said. “Because we are doing so many things that are agitating the Black community, we need that liaison. I also agree that having the least experienced teachers in schools like Faison is wrong. The African-American community is the hardest hit again. I would not have voted for the furloughs.”
Brentley said he has complained about inexperienced teachers in Black schools for years to no avail, and said Shealey and Director Thomas Sumpter, the fourth African-American board director, could do more.
“They are on the executive board, so they have some power. But if you don’t use it someone will take it from you,” he said.
“Certain schools are protected, and you can’t tell me that closing Northview Heights, where most students were walkers, and bussing them somewhere else saves money. This administration has been terrible for Black students and poor students. These decisions have nothing to do with education.”
Lane, echoed the disappointment about not being able to come to an arrangement with the union, but said she will continue to push for teacher effectiveness to be used. Regardless, she said, the district will move forward.
“There will be teachers in the classrooms, and we will support them so they can do their very best,” she said.