Pittsburgh Teacher Training Academies Lose to 'Tough Budget'

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Pittsburgh Public Schools scrapped plans for two teacher training academies on Wednesday, five weeks before they were scheduled to open.

The district wasn't able to reach an agreement with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers to retain the 38 teachers committed to the academy once layoffs become necessary, the district said.

The district faces a $68 million budget deficit in 2012. Under the terms of the teachers' contract, furloughs are based on seniority. The academies were for new teachers.

"This is the kind of discussion that comes about during tough budget times," union president John Tarka said.

The academies at Brashear High School and King PreK-8 were a key part of the district's plan to secure a $40 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher recruitment, training and effectiveness.

Federal funding was to cover about $7 million of the $26 million cost of the academies during a three-year period. The district requested $13 million from the Gates Foundation, though officials couldn't say how much the district actually received. The balance was to come from the district or by other means the district pursued.

Fischetti said the district consulted the Gates Foundation on the decision and will use the grant money to improve teacher effectiveness in other ways. No one from the Gates Foundation returned calls for comment.

Board member Theresa Colaizzi said she's "devastated."

"This was a remarkable opportunity to be able to train our own teachers to make sure they were the right people to put in front our children," she said.

The district couldn't wait any longer to make a decision on whether to continue with the academies, said Chief of Staff Lisa Fischetti.

"These are people's lives we're talking about," she said. "Without a way to protect them, it would not be a wise use of our dollars and resources."

No remodeling work had been done at either Brashear or King. Superintendent Linda Lane decided to use existing facilities after slashing the capital budget in March.

Vol. 30, Issue 33

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