Randall Taylor is tired of losing. After 11 years on the Pittsburgh Public School board, he has given up opposing Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's reforms.
"You don't have a school board: You just have some people who are rubber-stamping," he says. "I can waste my time in better ways."
But there's no shortage of people willing to take his place. Three women are seeking the Democratic nomination for the board in District 1 -- which includes Homewood, Point Breeze and North Point Breeze, East Hills, Lincoln-Lemington, and parts of Larimer, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.
All of the candidates are new to politics.
Christine Stone is a Squirrel Hill office manager who works in her husband's law firm. Sharene Shealey is an air-quality specialist with Reliant Energy who lives in North Point Breeze. Sherry Brooks is a minister from Point Breeze. She also works as a community-outreach coordinator for the University of Pittsburgh.
By her own admission, Stone is an unusual fit for the majority-black district. She's white, and her two daughters attend private school. But to get real reform, she says, "You may have to break the rules: ... what your skin color should be, where your kids go to school -- all that kind of stuff."
If anything, Stone says, sending her kids outside the district gives her insight about how Pittsburgh schools must improve. "I am among the families that have lost confidence in the public schools. ... We need to get that confidence back." Her plan for doing so is to "cut back costs." Along those lines, she supports Roosevelt's "vision for right-sizing" the district by closing schools.
Shealey, who is black and whose two school-aged children are enrolled in the district, says a white candidate like Stone could represent the district. But, she adds, "Pittsburgh tends to be a racist city, and so it's hard when you don't have diversity at the highest levels ... to promote diversity at the lowest." She also faults Stone for not putting her own children in public schools.
"I believe in public schools," Shealey says. "I'm not saying that it's wrong to mistrust the system. ... But I don't want my manager having mistrust in the system."
Shealey and Stone both say closing racial-achievement gaps is a priority. Another goal, says Shealey, is providing parents and stakeholders with better access to data about school performance.
Brooks, who is black and has no children, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. At an April 18 candidates' forum, however, she said that her platform includes strengthening early childhood programs and implementing performance-based pay for teachers.
Shealey has the backing of Taylor, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, and the Gertrude Stein Political Club, a GLBT advocacy group. She's also endorsed by the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club, a group of progressive Democrats in the East End.
The Club noted that Shealey "holds degrees from Howard University and Carnegie Mellon." It also noted that Shealey's children were enrolled in the district.
The Club's endorsement is a blow for Stone, who sits on its board. Club President Chris Zurawsky says Stone "didn't try very hard for the endorsement."
"I still have yet to meet Sherry Brooks," he adds.
But among Brooks' supporters is Pittsburgh City Councilor Rev. Ricky Burgess, whose district overlaps much of District 1. Burgess says that he and other ministers respect Brooks' "proven track record of serving parts of my community."
Stone has no public endorsements, but touts a bachelor's degree in accounting from Chatham University and consults on government-fraud and whistle-blower cases. The district has a $524.6 million budget, she points out: "This isn't running for the PTA. It's a big deal."
Shealey notes that her engineering degrees give her "a really high level of math." Reading balance sheets, she says, is "not what I do. But I can."
Whoever takes over the District 1 seat, Taylor says, the schools won't be graded in dollars and cents. The district is "very average," he contends, and while it is slowly improving, it "leaves a lot of kids behind." What board members should ask Roosevelt, he says, is "Have you spent $100 million and basically given us the same results?"