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Mayor's task force on schools ready

38 members appointed to recommend improvements

Saturday, August 17, 2002

By Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Mayor Tom Murphy unveiled a 38-member task force of the city's "best and brightest" yesterday to recommend improvements to the city schools.

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Cramming for their big test -- devising and implementing ways to restore confidence in the public schools -- will start after Labor Day, just as the schools reopen.

Murphy announced the "Mayor's Commission on Public Education" last month after the Grable, Heinz and Pittsburgh foundations yanked $3.5 million in schools funding, citing squabbling by the district's nine-member board and with Superintendent John Thompson.

That pressed Murphy to join the debate over the schools, even though he has no direct power over them. He identified three general issues facing the schools -- finances, governance and student performance -- and yesterday named people to tackle them.

The task force is comprised of civic leaders, union and business officials, university educators, lawyers, parents and others. The diversity of the group will be the key to issuing recommendations that residents, legislators and school officials can "coalesce around" and implement, said Oxford Development President David Matter, the committee's co-chair.

"The reason [diversity] is so important is that even if we come up with the best possible recommendations and findings, if it doesn't feel right for Pittsburgh, if it doesn't really represent the community, we'll have failed," Matter said.

"We have to make a compelling argument and we have to do that in a way that develops a consensus around the city. I'm confident with this group of people that we'll be able to do that."

As large as the task force is, it does not contain city school administrators, teachers or board members, as district officials requested when Murphy announced the commission last month.

That was done on purpose to keep the task force objective, Murphy and Matter said. The directors of the three commissions that pulled the school's funding are on the task force: co-chair William Trueheart of the Pittsburgh Foundation; Susan Brownlee of the Grable Foundation; and Maxwell King of the Heinz Endowments.

"I think it was designed to be a community commission," said Pat Crawford, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. "You could make a case for or against [inclusion of school officials]. They chose not to, and we certainly respect that approach, but we stand ready to provide any information that is required, as long as it's feasible."

Thompson was on vacation yesterday, but Crawford said he has indicated he will work closely with the commission.

"I'm a little disappointed that we don't have at least one person representing us, but I wish them well," school board president Jean Fink said. "I hope they find something we can use."

Members of the newly appointed commission, speaking at a news conference in Murphy's office yesterday, gave grave assessments of the schools' current situation, citing truancy and illiteracy by school children, squabbling by school leaders and a confidence gap that could drive them to the suburbs or private schools.

"Like a lot of people who are my age with young families, we're struggling with the fact of -- do we stay in the city or do we move to another school district?" said Garth Taylor, 33, director of the Garfield Youth Sports Football program and an official with the Allegheny County Human Services Department.

"I don't feel I should have to pay for my child to have a decent education, and I shouldn't have to wake him up at five in the morning to drive halfway across the city to get him a decent education as well," Taylor said.

"Children are the backbone," said Ronald Peters, Director of the Metro-Urban Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. "Those children who do not receive good educations eventually have a higher rate of ending up in our criminal justice system ... These are factors that contribute to the ability of a community or its downgrading."

The chair of the financial committee, studying the schools' spending and tax revenues, will be PricewaterhouseCoopers managing partner Louis Testoni. The chair of the governance committee, studying leadership by the school board and Thompson, will be University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. Chairing the student performance committee is the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside.

Each committee will have 12 members. Day-to-day administration of the schools task force will be handled by former city planning director Eloise Hirsh, who will have an office in the Regional Enterprise Tower Downtown.

The commission will start meeting in September and post its work and announcements on a Web site, which is not yet operational. Matter said he expects a report to be complete by December.

The three committees and chairs are as follows:

Mayor’s Commission on Public Education

Co Chairs:

David M. Matter, President and Chief Operating Officer, Oxford Development Company

William E. Trueheart, President and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation

School Funding and Financial Management Committee

Chair: Louis L. Testoni, Office Managing Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Donald Burrell, Director of Facility Management, ALCOA; BOMA Board of Governors

Esther Bush, President and CEO, Urban League of Pittsburgh

David L. Donahoe, Executive Director, Allegheny Regional Asset District

Carey Harris, Executive Director, South Side Local Development Company

John Henne, Henne Jewelers

Maxwell King, Executive Director, The Heinz Endowments

Richard G. King, District Justice

Stephen A. Schillo, Vice President of Management and Business, Duquesne University

Gregory R. Spencer, Senior Vice President and CAO, Equitable Resources, Inc.

Richard Stanizzo, President, Pittsburgh Building and Construction Trades Council

Garth J. Taylor, Contract Monitor, Allegheny Department of Human Services; Director, Garfield Youth Sports Football Program

Leadership and Governance Committee

Chair: Mark A. Nordenberg, Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh

Bonita Allen, Parent activist and public school volunteer

Raymond N. Baum, Attorney, Pepper Hamilton, LLP

Mary K. Conturo, Special Counsel, Sports and Exhibition Authority

The Rev. Dr. William Curtis, Pastor, Mt. Ararat Baptist Church

Rosalyn Guy-McCorkle, Attorney, Chair of Urban Youth Action

Frances A. Hanlon, Parent volunteer, Overbrook Elementary and Southbrook PSCC

Harry Litman, Former US Attorney-Western District of Pa; Distinguished Visitor in Law And Public Affairs, Princeton University

Sean McDonald, President and CEO, Precision Therapeutics

Thomas W. McGough, Jr. Attorney, Reed Smith LLP

Sherry Niepp, Retired Principal, Pittsburgh Public Schools

Estella Smith, Retired General Manager of Public Affairs, Duquesne Light Company; Hill District Community Development Corporation

Student Performance, Accountability and Standards

Chair: The Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, Pastor, Calvary Episcopal Church

Dr. Esther L. Barrazone, President, Chatham College

John Bellisario, Frank B. Fuhrer Wholesale Company, Greenfield parent

Roberta Bowra, M & V Hair Salon; Board Member, Manchester Citizens Corporation

Susan H. Brownlee, Executive Director, The Grable Foundation

John Chalovich, Business Manager, Electricians Local #5

Nikki Durnil, Graphic Design, Liberty Pittsburgh Systems, Sheraden parent

Raymond E. Meyer, President, Northside Leadership Conference

Dr. Ronald E. Peters, Director, Metro-Urban Institute, Associate Professor, Urban Ministry, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Dr. Lauren Resnick, Professor of Psychology, Director, Learning Research and Development Corporation, University of Pittsburgh

D. Lansing Taylor, President & CEO, Cellomics, Inc.

Dr. Jerome Taylor, Executive Director, Center for Family Excellence; Associate Professor with Dual Appointments in Department of Psychology and Department of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh

Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Staff writer Lori Shontz contributed to this report.

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