December 2015 Board Watch Report CardLeave a Comment
Below is the twenty-fifth Board Watch report card based on volunteer assessments. The current report card reflects assessments from September through November of 2015. Overall, the School Board received a B- average.
- Overall: The overall grade is a 3.45 (B-), which increased from a C+ on the previous Report Card. The grades were calculated from 14 surveys from 9 different volunteers.
- Focus and Mission: The score is a 3.03 (C+), which increased from a C on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that the Board spent just over half of its meeting time managing time effectively, focusing on ways to achieve the district’s goals, and prioritizing student outcomes.
- Transparency: The score is a 4.05 (B+), which increased from a B on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers agreed that they felt welcome at the meeting and understood the information presented and the rationale behind the Board’s actions.
- Conduct: The score is a 4.51 (A-), which increased from a B+ on the previous Report Card. This means that on average, volunteers reported that very few Board members used sarcastic or disrespectful verbal or nonverbal communication. They reported that nearly all of the Board handled differences of opinion respectfully.
- Role Clarity: The score is a 2.50 (C-), an increase from a D+ on the previous Report. This score reflects that on average, volunteers reported that the Board spent a little less than half of its meeting time focused on how the district is making progress toward achieving its goals and using policy to create solutions to Board member concerns. Volunteers said the Board spent a little more than half of its meeting time focused on the details of agenda items (i.e., when items occur, who participates, etc.).
- Competency: The score is a 3.45 (B-), an increase from a C+ on the previous Report Card. On average, volunteers reported that more than half of Board members were prepared for meetings and appeared to use research, district data, existing policies, and other facts to inform their opinions.
A Deeper Look at the Scores
Compared with the previous Report Card, the School Board received slightly higher grades in every indicator. We appreciate efforts by Board Members to improve governance and to grapple with issues of equity, particularly regarding the Wilkinsburg and Westinghouse merger. Additionally, volunteers observed fewer Board Member comments that communicated a lack of respect for fellow Board Members and/or district staff. We encourage the Board to continue efforts to treat one another with respect and professionalism.
Recommendation – Focus on Policy
For this reporting period and throughout the past six years of the Board Watch program, the School Board has received its lowest grades in Role Clarity. The Board has the extremely important responsibility of governing a district that serves nearly 24,000 K-12 students and whose $567.9 million budget is larger than the City of Pittsburgh’s. We urge the Board to take the following actions in order to ensure that these dollars get distributed equitably in ways that translate into maximum achievement and opportunities for every student in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
1. Monitor progress on key academic goals – 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 encourage the Board to work with District administration to set specific achievement targets and benchmarks toward these goals and to monitor them on a regular basis.
2. Improve impact and transparency of district budgeting – the district’s current budgeting system is neither transparent nor flexible with more than half of expenditures not tracked 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. We urge 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.
3. Increase transparency in decision making – we urge the new Board to demonstrate accountability to voters and taxpayers by making its decision processes explicit and transparent. We ask that publicly funded cell phone numbers and emails be made publicly available so voters can directly contact Board Members with questions and concerns. Currently constituents do not have direct access to district issued mobile phones for Board Members, which reduces trust and confidence in the Board’s ability to be responsive to public concerns. Only direct access to democratically elected School Board members can improve trust and communication in our community.
This Report Card marks the final reporting period including outgoing Board Members Bill Isler, Sherry Hazuda, and Mark Brentley, Sr. We would like to express our sincere gratitude for the time and effort you all have given in service of the students of Pittsburgh Pubic Schools. We welcome newly-seated Board Members Kevin Carter, Moira Kaleida, and Lynda Wrenn.
Links to Videos of Board Meetings Covered by this Report Card
Watch the Board meetings that our Board Watch volunteers attend to better understand the grade the Board received.
Since the launch of Board Watch in January 2009, A+ Schools has issued 25 report cards on Pittsburgh School Board governance practices based on observations of meetings by trained volunteers.
The December 2015 report card is the eighteenth report card to be issued using the new reporting form (Version 2.0) introduced by A+ Schools in 2011. Version 2.0 reflects higher expectations for the School Board’s governance and allows for more specific feedback and recommendations from Board Watch volunteers.
What You Can Do
- Volunteer for Board Watch
- Contact your School Board Member
- Testify at a Public Hearing
- Attend or Watch a School Board Meeting