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    Alternative school worries school officials

    Ohanian Comment: It's no surprise that Broad-ordained superintendent Roosevelt urges approval of CEP. Look up Mark Roosevelt and then look up CEP in the 'search' from the home page and you'll get an eyeful.

    Kudos to school board members who dare to ask questions.

    By Joe Smydo

    Some Pittsburgh school board members voiced unease last night about a proposed alternative school for disruptive students, but Superintendent Mark Roosevelt urged approval of the program for children he said the school district now is failing.

    At a stormy agenda-review meeting, board member Mark Brentley Sr. criticized Mr. Roosevelt's staff for negotiating a contract with Community Education Partners of Nashville, Tenn., instead of soliciting proposals from a number of firms willing to operate the school for middle-grade and high-school students.

    Member Jean Fink asked how the district would get out of its six-year contract with CEP if the district isn't satisfied with the company's performance, and board member Theresa Colaizzi wanted to know how the company could be trusted to report truant students when its payment -- about $5.7 million a year -- would be tied to enrollment. Patrick Dowd said CEP should be required to meet "performance targets" related to truancy and graduation rates.

    Some members voiced displeasure with the proposal to reimburse CEP for $3 million in renovations to the proposed school site -- the former Clayton Elementary building in Perry South -- while letting the company select contractors and oversee the work. Nor did some members like proposals to let CEP use the building rent-free and allow the company to adjust its fee if operating costs increase.

    Board member Daniel Romaniello Sr. said relocating disruptive students would enhance learning opportunities for well-behaved peers, and Mr. Roosevelt called district-wide behavioral problems "the most serious issue I think that we face."

    The district hopes to obtain a state grant of $2 million a year to help cover operating costs. The district would reimburse CEP for renovations over 15 years, with interest.

    The board will vote on the proposal Wednesday, and if approved, the school would open in September for students who are chronically disruptive.

    "These children are not being served well now," Mr. Roosevelt said. "This program's promise is to serve them better. We will hold the program to that promise."

    Mr. Brentley took offense when Mr. Roosevelt, who joined the school district about 16 1/2 months ago, said the program was long overdue. "You're the savior, Mark," Mr. Brentley said. "That's right. Nobody else was taking care of business."

    Later in the meeting, Mr. Brentley and board member Randall Taylor assailed Mr. Roosevelt and operations chief Richard Fellers for liberal use of change orders during summer renovation projects.

    Mr. Fellers said Mr. Taylor "came close" to accusing him of misusing public dollars. "I don't have to bite my tongue around here," Mr. Taylor replied.

    (Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@

    — Joe Smydo
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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