A third of the Pittsburgh public school board is now supported by a group of black Pittsburgh mothers frustrated with the district’s response to the pandemic.
The Black Women for a Better Education group presented a full slate of candidates for the five open seats on the board in May, although only two of the races were contested for Tuesday’s general election. Tracey Reed won the District 5 seat with 70% of the vote and Gene Walker won District 9 with 67%. Sala Udin won her spring primary and was not contested for the District 3 race.
Incumbent Terry Kennedy represented wards of District 5 for two terms, while Veronica Edwards served District 9 for one term.
James Fogarty, executive director of the Pittsburgh A + Schools Watchdog and Advocacy Group, said the findings show that black mothers “have always been and continue to be a force for the better in our district.”
âWhen you think about how little time they had to organize, bring out the candidates and really rally a wide range of support across racial lines in the city at a time when racial polarization has reached its peak, not only in our region but in our countryâ¦ I am very certain that they will continue to be a force in the politics of our district and a force for equality for our children, âhe said.
Reed was previously a member of the A + Board of Directors. The group is non-partisan and does not support any candidate.
BW4BE formed in spring 2020 by a group of mothers and community leaders frustrated with the district’s shift to distance learning at the start of the pandemic. They wanted a new leader and asked the school board not to renew former Superintendent Anthony Hamlet’s contract.
When the board renewed his contract, the group formed a political action committee and supported five candidates. Its candidates from Districts 1 and 7 lost the Democratic primaries this spring.
Reed is a former teacher and has advanced degrees in public administration and educational policy. She said she would advocate for fair spending and sustainable budgeting.
She also said the council needs to be more transparent with the public.
“We need to focus more on what we need to do to improve schools, not in a ‘we’re doing a good job now, we just need to make incremental changes’ [way], but like we’re failing and generations of people in this city have failed, âReed said. âWe need to make dramatic changes. “
Walker has children in the district and previously worked for Pittsburgh Promise, a scholarship fund for eligible Pittsburgh students. He said he is ready to make tough decisions on behalf of families.
âSo many people I’ve spoken to who have young children don’t send them to Pittsburgh public schools because they feel like our schools are lacking – whether it’s special education, overall security and access to programming, âhe said.
Fogarty said he was excited by the group’s commitment to use the data to understand how black children have been underserved in the district and where opportunities lie to improve outcomes.
The members of the board of directors have big decisions in front of them. In December, they must approve a budget and decide whether or not to raise property taxes. The district operates with a budget deficit of $ 39.5 million. The district finance director told the board that if he didn’t act, he would deplete his reserves by 2023.
The council will also begin a search in December for a new superintendent. Former District Chief Anthony Hamlet resigned his post two days after the start of the school year after a two-year investigation found he had violated state ethics law for having inappropriately accepted travel reimbursements, among other violations. Assistant Superintendent Wayne Walters was promoted to temporarily fill the position, but he did not say if he was interested in a permanent placement.
Fogarty said the new board should use the vision of all children preparing for college, trades or careers after graduation as a guide.
âYou make a difficult decision, but you make it in the service of vision and then you can explain how the children will benefit from that decision,â he said. âIf you don’t know exactly where you want to go and what priorities you want your superintendent to research and you have disagreements over those priorities, it just leads to a dead end at a time when we need to resolve some issues. “