Pittsburgh’s Black community rallies in support of PPS Superintendent

REV. JOHNNIE MONROE

by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer

The Western PA Black Political Assembly is calling on residents and parents of Pittsburgh Public Schools students to support Superintendent Anthony Hamlet amid media reports that he may have violated ethics rules with regard to district contracts and an unauthorized trip to Cuba.

“We are not aware of, and do not believe that the superintendent has engaged in any unethical behavior or conduct,” said Rev. Johnnie Monroe, writing for the assembly in a June 3 open letter to the City of Pittsburgh, its residents and the media. “We are asking city residents, PPS parents, and (the) African American community to disregard these perfidious reports.”

The letter goes on to note some of the academic improvements shown by Black students since Dr. Hamlet’s arrival, as well as moves toward greater transparency such as the use of Data Dashboards that allow tracking of performance indicators like graduation rates, state test performance rates and Pittsburgh Promise eligibility.

The letter also references former Superintendent John Thompson, the district’s first permanent Black superintendent, whose contract was not renewed in 2005.

“We vow never to allow the treatment of Dr. Thompson to ever occur again. Let us be perfectly clear—we are standing by this African American Superintendent,” the open letter, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier, said. “We will never allow the second lynching of an African American superintendent in Pittsburgh this century.”

In an exclusive June 4 interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier, Rev. Monroe said the current treatment of Dr. Hamlet is eerily similar to what Dr. Thompson endured.

“Why is it that Black men are held to a different standard than White men? If you look back, John Thompson was about to turn this district in the right direction—and he was run out of town,” Rev. Monroe told the Courier exclusively. “Some of us think we are seeing a return of that.”

The controversy swirling around Dr. Hamlet concerns three separate issues:

•An unauthorized two-day trip to Cuba by Dr. Hamlet and three other administrators, courtesy of The Flying Classroom owner Barrington Irving, who had a one-year, $73,000 contract with the district. International travel requires school board approval. The trip is being investigated by outside attorney and former Pittsburgh Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge;

•Dr. Hamlet’s failure to file required financial interest statements for the last two years. This resulted in Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, who is also the school board’s controller, filing a complaint with the State Ethics Board. Last month, Lamb said he had received multiple tips of “possible conflicts of interest” and that the financial statements would be the logical place to start such an inquiry;

•According to a report on KDKA-TV, the district awarded more than $14 million in no-bid Education Technology contracts to firms Dr. Hamlet or other top officials “have a relationship with.”

While all of these issues have appeared in multiple media outlets, they were first broken by KDKA-TV reporter Andy Sheehan and aired during May, which is “sweeps month” across local television stations. It’s a month in which local television stations are looking for the highest ratings possible to set higher advertising rates—and ultimately, more revenue. Both Rev. Monroe and Dr. Hamlet believe Sheehan’s investigative stories on the PPS superintendent are intended to boost KDKA’s ratings.

“We think Andy is just trying to dig up some dirt,” said Rev. Monroe. “If he has something substantive, he should put it out there—not just go on a witch-hunt.”

Reverend Monroe said the same of Lamb, which is why the assembly’s letter was addressed to the City of Pittsburgh.

“Lamb’s on a witch-hunt too,” he said. “He’s acting on tips? He should put them out there. Were they from board members, people in the schools? Put it on the table. If there is something that merits him (Dr. Hamlet) leaving, let’s see it.”

Reverend Monroe acknowledged that Dr. Hamlet was the center of controversy immediately after the board voted to hire him in 2016. As the Courier reported at the time, an article in the Palm Beach Post noted Dr. Hamlet claimed greater improvement in scholastic achievement and reductions in suspensions than Florida state record indicated for his former district, Palm Beach County.

Dr. Hamlet explained that as a difference in statistical analysis. However, it was discovered that in the “educational philosophy” section of his resume, he copied—without attribution—a 2015 Washington Post article about a Maryland superintendent.

That led to some members of the Black community, including Urban League President Esther Bush, Black Political Empowerment Project Chair Tim Stevens and current school board member Sala Udin, to ask the board to rescind Dr. Hamlet’s contract. The board chose not to.

“He weathered that storm,” said Rev. Monroe. “The board backed him. People need to let that go.”

At the time, Dr. Hamlet enjoyed broad support from the Black faith community, and continues to do so.

 

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