Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet resigns

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, who was found to have violated ethics codes, is resigning.

The announcement was made Wednesday by the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education and Pittsburgh Public School District Solicitor Ira Weiss.

>>PREVIOUS STORY: Pittsburgh School Board calls ethics report on superintendent ‘concerning’

Hamlet’s resignation will be effective Oct. 1.

In his letter of resignation, Hamlet said, in part, the following:

“For the past five years, it has been my distinct honor and pleasure to serve in Pittsburgh as your Superintendent. After much thought and consideration and because, in light of current circumstances, I think it is presently the best thing for our students and families, I believe that now is the time for my tenure to come to an end and to embark upon a new chapter of my professional life. Consistent with our mutual agreement, I will be leaving my role as Superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, effective October 1, 2021.”

When asked if Hamlet was pressured to resign, the board said he was not asked to leave and the decision was his own.

In late August, the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission said Hamlet violated state ethics codes related to travel expenses. That included being reimbursed for travel that had already been paid for by the school district.

>>STORY: Pittsburgh Public Superintendent Hamlet’s spending violated ethics codes, state commission says

Hamlet responded to the report by saying it “didn’t find any intentional wrongdoing.” When asked about criticism from city leaders, he said they have a “biased opinion” and claimed he’s had a target on his back for years.

On Tuesday, members of the Western Pennsylvania Black Political Assembly and a former PPS school board member offered support for Hamlet, claiming he has been unfairly scrutinized. They also called on the district’s board of education to postpone any actions or statements concerning Hamlet’s status with the district.

>> RELATED STORY: Black leaders show support for Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent

Board President Sylvia Wilson released the following statement regarding Hamlet’s resignation:

“Members of the Board reviewed the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission Report with diligence, discussed its findings in detail, assessed the overall situation, and remain steadfast in the belief that this outcome is unfortunate, but necessary. Most importantly, this course of action creates an opportunity to remain focused on providing quality education for District students while eliminating unrelated distractions. We look forward to moving ahead, and keeping our students safe and engaged in their learning. The Board would like to thank Dr. Hamlet for his five-plus years of service and wish him well.”

Hamlet will receive one year’s salary, plus the actual value of his benefits -- amounting to $399,687. This is because the terms of his contract, in accordance with the Pennsylvania School Code, “limits severance to no more than one year of salary and benefits if the contract had two or more years remaining -- whether there is a mutual agreement for a resignation or whether he is terminated at will.”

“I think that money shouldn’t have gone to him, it should have gone into the school to fix bussing issues, issues with buildings that need to be renovated and opening the neighboring schools,” PPS parent Kendra Foster said.

An interim superintendent will be appointed by the board. That is expected to happen on Sept. 29.

The incoming school board will direct the national search for a new superintendent beginning in December.

President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers said the concern moving forward is that after two years of negotiations, certain groups in the school still do not have a contract, including the school police.

“We did not finish paraprofessional and technical contract, which is a big worry to me. I was going to meet with him this morning to ask for his help,” Nina Esposito-Visgitis said. “Pittsburgh public schools has 600 paraprofessionals including school police.”

Also under that contract, the technical clerical workers who Esposito-Visgitis said kept the district afloat through virtual learning during the pandemic.

“Our technical clerical workers who kept the district going last year workday and night and weekends to make sure our teachers and students had computers they needed, we know how important they are we want to make sure they have a contract,” she said.

She said the focus remains on the students.

“We want continuity; we want the public and parents to know that they teachers remained focused,” she said.

Was race an issue in this situation?

Community and school leaders said it’s time to put the focus back on the kids, but also say that every time the district puts a Black man in charge, something or someone runs that leader away.

“We need to focus on our children and that’s the main point right now. Dr. Hamlet did say that this has all been such a distraction from our focus on our children and educating our children and that’s why he felt it was best to step away,” said school board president Sylvia Wilson. “It’s real good to throw arrows and darts at somebody and make complaints and not have suggestions or solutions. So solutions are not always what some people prefer or expect and it’s not always the easiest solutions either. We have to be responsible in making decisions.

“Now we’re going to lose the general of our biggest urban school district. You never change generals in the middle of the war. I think it’s extremely unfortunate that Dr. Hamlet has submitted his resignation,” said state president of the NAACP Kenneth Huston.

Huston said he thinks this goes beyond the state ethics violations.

“We’ve seen this playbook before,” he said. “This is the second African American male superintendent that we have seen pretty much go through what he has went through to the point of resignation.”