"The problem is, because Schenley pulls from a lot of different areas, there are no board members to hold accountable" complained Jen Lakin, one of the Schenley parent-activists.
"Everyone feels that this board already made up their minds" added Stephanie Tecza, another Schenley parent, who ran unsuccessfully for the School Board herself. "At this point, we could stand on our heads naked, and nobody would care."
Nonetheless, over forty parents and students attended yesterday's public hearing of the School Board to protest the anticipated closure of Schenley High School, and to voice their displeasure at the High School Reform plan they believe is driving the decision.
"It's technically like segregation of the school" said Ellie Tecza, Stephanie's daughter. "That's the dumbest idea in the world."
"We're doing better than other schools, if you look at Westinghouse or Peabody" said Freddy Hier, another student who organized the impromptu protest outside the building in Oakland. At the mere mention of "Peabody", there was sniffing and chortling.
The academic performance of Schenley relative to other public high schools was often mentioned, as was the dubiousness of safety issues concerning the school building. By many accounts, the school is in much better shape than recent media reports have portrayed, and repairs would cost far less than the $60 million frequently reported.
After examining school board documents and making their own assessments, many attested with confidence that asbestos remediation could be completed for less than $5 million. The fact that students were allowed in the building this year proves that an asbestos scare of crisis proportions was fabricated to push forward reform plans, say many protesters.
A+ Schools also took on a share of criticism for adding an unnecessary layer of insulation between decision makers and constituents.
"Why is A+ Schools conducting community forums?" asked Debbie Levy-McKenney. "This is the responsibility of the School Board."
"I will simply say that [closing Schenley] is a game-changer for many public high school parents, and I do not mean that in a positive way" said Barbara Danko, joining many who criticized the anticipated maneuver at a time when major initiatives like the Pittsburgh Promise are being unrolled to counter declining enrollment. Large poster boards touting the Promise and UPMC flanked School Board members during the hearing.
"Schenley outperforms district averages," pointed out Lakin during public comments, "and is the only majority African-American school to do so."
Whereas parents were more likely to dwell on superior academic performance of Schenley High School students, those students themselves tended to focus more on the advantages of diversity. Ellie Tecza spoke passionately about her experiences getting to know students hailing from war-torn countries, insisting that was part of her education she would not have experienced elsewhere.
The term "segregation" came up again and again, particularly when reflecting upon the fate of Hill District students feeding into Schenley who will be reassigned to Milliones School, wheras International Baccalaureate students and Robotics students will be shuffled elsewhere.
"What are they going to do when they go out in the real world?" asked Lakin. "Schenley was the real world."
We got to ask Superintendent Mark Roosevelt whether the cost of repairing the building was as low as many Schenley parents are claiming. Although he placed asbestos remediation costs at "about $10 to $17 million" -- considerably lower than originally reported -- the total cost of repairs would be far higher.
"The damn building was let go," he sighed, explaining that worries asbestos put other necessary repairs on hold. Roosevelt continues to estimate the cost of saving the Schenley building at roughly $70-$80 million.
School district Chief of Operations Paul Gill told us that "the electrical system, plumbing system, ceiling, floor and wall maintenance had been deferred for years."
When we asked whether these challenges were out of line with the many other ancient buildings of the school district, Gill conceded, "that's a good question." Yet he insisted that all the necessary repairs to Schenley would cost, by the latest estimate, $76.2 million.
Rumors also swirled in the gallery that Superintendent Roosevelt was currently entertaining offers from school districts in other cities, going on interviews already. Many were concerned that he would "abandon" the school district in the midst of half-completed reforms.
Roosevelt flatly denied the allegations.
"Not interviewing, not looking elsewhere," Roosevelt assured us. "That's just what some of them would like to see happen."