Board of Directors Passes Controversial Safety Grant


(Pittsburgh Public Schools)

The Board approved a funding grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency with a two-part package. The District’s Chief of Operations Officer, Mike McNamara, proposed the commission’s grant to the Board of Directors for their approval, during their agenda review. The now-approved grant will cover expenses of adding new exterior lights in some schools, new visitor management systems, ALICE drills, and a school police training academy for four school security aides. 

At the Agenda Review meeting on April 19, amendments were made to cut the training academy out of the grant because of “over-policing” issues pertaining to Pittsburgh schools. 

President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT), Nina Esposito-Vigitis, said, “It’s wonderful to have our officers, as other districts are reaching out to get officers too that know our students, are well trained, trained to work with children, trained in de-escalation,” during their public hearing meeting. Esposito-Vigitis reiterated the same belief of many parents, community leaders, and PFT officials: the Board should approve the grant in its fullest form. The PFT represents security aides and police officers in the district.

There was an original motion to cut the police academy from the two-part grant but it did not occur because of lack of board support. School board members Pam Harbin, Devon Taliaferro, Tracey Reed, and Jamie Piotrowski eventually voted against the whole grant. 

Harbin said she believed that outside expert-organizations on school policing reform should “present” information to the Board on over-policing data and its consequences for minority students.

Sala Udin, Board President (District 3), said he would hold McNamara and Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters “accountable” for “hiring the right kind of personnel so that we will not have to be back here with another conversation, talking about if we wish, we should’ve, could’ve.”

No member of the public at the hearing was against the police academy. Other testimonials were related to district staff cuts at some elementary schools, start times, behavioral issues, and the code of conduct. But the most high-profile item was the school police academy and safety grant.

Allderdice School Police Officer LaShawn Roebuck. (Pavel Marin)

Allderdice School Police Officer LaShawn Roebuck says, “I always say to students, ‘I build relationships with you,’ so they see me before the uniform.” 

Officer Roebuck said in response to the Board members who voted against the grant, “Instead of sitting behind a decision desk, come and walk around our schools all-day. Come to Allderdice, Westinghouse, any of the schools.”

She believes that the passage of the grant is “necessary.” “We need more manpower and just because we’re police, doesn’t mean we are trying to arrest. We are here to ensure the safety of all students and staff.”     

The Board deliberated on a contractual proposal to pay Greenway Strategy Group to develop a five-year strategic plan for the District with the help of administration. Carter believed that the administration should have had the Board lead the path for the planning process, not the administration. Taliaferro responded to Carter saying, “I am having a hard time being very clear on Mr. Carter’s concerns and a lot of things that have been mentioned tonight are untrue because we have talked about this as a Board…We have directed Dr. Walters to move forward with this work.”

She said, “I wish that all board members were present at the meetings before they make comments that are untrue.” Carter interrupted Taliaferro’s remarks and asked for a point-of-order from President Udin, which Udin declined.