Doesn't Play Well with Others
There are terrible behavior problems in the Pittsburgh school system: yelling, profanity, threats, name-calling. Unfortunately, it's happening on the school board.
School board meetings have deteriorated so badly that three area foundations announced they are withholding $3.5 million in grants to the school system until the board and Superintendent John Thompson start behaving themselves. Mayor Thomas Murphy is going further, creating a task force of financial experts, corporate executives and college administrators to look into the school system's finances, educational programs and governance and make recommendations for change.
What's going on? Basically, a majority of board members like to meddle in the system's administration. Thompson tried to curb the micromanagement and the war commenced. Pittsburgh isn't the only place with terrible school board politics — Dallas, Miami and suburban Washington's Prince Georges County, Md., have had recent bouts of school board dysfunction. But only in Pittsburgh have funders backed away in dismay.
The effect on the school board? In their first meeting after the foundations' announcement, the superintendent and board were on best behavior — until they retreated into private session. There, according to reporters listening at the door, they began berating each other again. At one point, the board president, Jean Fink, was heard yelling at another board member, "Should I dump this water on your head to get your attention?" Maybe not a bad idea all around. Posted 8/1/2002
Postscript: Jean Fink stepped down from the Pittsburgh School Board in 2013 after 33 years. After her combative tenure as president, she came to be regarded as an "elder stateswoman," as one local education leader put it. And what about her threat to douse one of her fellow board members? "It was just difficult to deal with the people I was dealing with," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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