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Testimony: Annexation inadequately addresses school funding challenges

Wilkinsburg Future is publishing transcriptions or first-party provided written statements delivered at hearings, such as the Pittsburgh City Council public hearing on annexation on January 11, wherein speakers opposing annexation numbered twice those who supported it.

This testimony was submitted to Pittsburgh City Council at that hearing by Moira B. Kaleida, Lead Political Organizer of OnePA, and a former Pittsburgh Public Schools School Board Director and its Policy Chair during her tenure. WF publishes it here in its entirety with her permission.

Good evening. First, thank you to Councilmember Kail-Smith for calling this important public hearing regarding the annexation of Wilkinsburg. Public comment and participation are cornerstones of our democracy, and I appreciate your commitment to transparency.

Councilman Coghill said he wouldn’t attend tonight, and mentioned that he didn’t agree with the process in holding a public hearing today. Process is exactly what this issue before us boils down to. We see the utilization of a never before used law from 1903 to try to push through an annexation, rather than holding robust community conversations and soliciting financial support from the state. Most people speaking here tonight against annexation would love to welcome Wilkinsburg with open arms through a thoughtful and community-led merger – But we will not support an annexation process that actively harms the school district and would hurt children from both Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t just about the students in PPS, this move would be a disservice to the children of Wilkinsburg as well. Without a debt relief mechanism for WSD and assistance from the state, the children of the borough would be thrown into a district who could not financially or logistically support them. If politicians in this city really want to move this initiative forward, we need to be having a conversation about a merger – not an annexation.

I hear that folks here want facts. Facts were presented to this body by Ira Weiss, while not speaking on behalf of the district, but all the same, as a solicitor for many school districts. I was surprised and disheartened to hear our school district and city controller support this annexation effort, declaring it a “win-win” without an understanding of the detrimental effects to the school district. It is both irresponsible and factually incorrect to put this sort of narrative out into the public sphere. As attested to by Solicitor, Ira Weiss, and backed up through an examination of school code and district finances, this move would financially cripple PPS. On top of all of this, I have heard promises of no reassessments which is not a promise that can be made. The city, school district, and county can all conduct reassessments. A resident can also bring a lawsuit against the county to force a reassessment – exactly what happened 10 years ago. We cannot make promises to the community that we certainly cannot keep.

Many of you are familiar with the work I have done around public education in this city. As a former school board director, the wife of a teacher, the mom of 2 PPS kids, and a graduate of John A. Brashear high school, my dedication and commitment to public education has very deep roots. This is not a testimony on a political agenda, but rather a plea to take the children of both Wilkinsburg and the city into account. Please vote no on the proposed annexation.

Tell Pittsburgh City Council that you oppose this annexation. Act now.

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