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Peduto Asks Gates Foundation For More Time To Save School Grant

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Mayor Bill Peduto says he's asking the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for more time to save a $40 million grant for Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The grant money is to reward exceptional teachers and re-train those who don't make the grade. But a stalemate between the district and the teachers' union over evaluation standards has put the money in jeopardy.

Sources close to the talks say Gates will no longer fund the grant without an agreement.

So, in an effort to salvage both the money and the reputation of the school district, Mayor Peduto met with the Gates Foundation in Seattle last month in an effort to buy time.

"That was my message to the Gates Foundation," said Mayor Peduto. "They are concerned about some of the battles we've been having recently. What I said to them is give me nine months."

Mayor Peduto would like to broker a deal between the union and the district over a teacher grading system, which the union says it too stringent.

Pittsburgh teachers would be treated at a much more severe level than teachers across the state," said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

The teachers would be graded on classroom observation, student performance and other factors. A score of 48 percent or less would require them to undergo retraining.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan: "If you scored 48 percent on an exam that would be well below an F?"

Pittsburgh School Board President Thomas Sumpter: "True."

Sheehan: "So, it's not really a high bar. "

Sumpter: "I wouldn't say it's a high bar."

In a dry run, 85 percent of the teachers passed and 15 percent fell below.

Under the system, those struggling teachers would have two years to make improvements or face dismissal. But Sumpter says that's not the intent.

"Now, if you're not improving in two years that's what the policy says, but that's not what we're looking for. We're looking to help teachers, help students," said Sumpter.

Mayor Peduto says working out these differences is essential for the future of the city.

"If we can't work together, the Gates Foundation, the Federation of Teachers, the school district and the City of Pittsburgh, we're going to fail our children," said Mayor Peduto. "We fail our children; I'm not going to get 20,000 people to move into the city."

$40 Million Gates Grant To Pittsburgh Public Schools May Be In Jeopardy (1/8/14)
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