By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Crucial decisions lie ahead in the area’s largest school district.

The Pittsburgh Public School Board must choose a new superintendent and negotiate a new contract with teachers — and there are concerns the teachers union may be taking too much of an active role in board politics.

She’s the powerful head of the American Federation of Teachers, representing more than 1 million teachers nationwide.

But Randi Weingarten has shown a particular interest in Pittsburgh. Not only its teachers, but in who sits on the Pittsburgh Public School Board.

“Why would the AFT be contributing to local neighborhood school board elections?” asked KDKA’s Andy Sheehan.

The AFT has been active in Pittsburgh for the past two years, funding advisers to the local Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers in fighting the implementation of a teacher evaluation system funded by the Gates Foundation.

This year, the AFT has given thousands of dollars to two board candidates: Moira Kaleida and Kevin Carter. Each received $3,750 apiece.

Weingarten, who comes to Pittsburgh frequently from Washington DC, came here again this month. KDKA’s Andy Sheehan asked her about the union’s influence.

Sheehan: “You’re not local. You’re a national teachers union. Why do you have what some people would consider undue influence on a local school system?”

Weingarten: “We actually don’t.”

Sheehan: “You’ve contributed thousands of dollars to local school board elections for pro-union candidates.”

Weingarten: “We actually only contribute that which community members and our own members have asked us to do. We never come in other than being invited.”

But the contributions have raised concerns.

“People should always look at who the majority funder is,” said Esther Bush. “What are their emphasis as their running for office and can they honestly be fair and flexible on behalf of the student’s academic progress?”

Former teachers and administrators now account for four of the nine board members — and with Kaleida and Carter running unopposed. Urban League President Esther Bush is concerned that new majority of the board may favor teacher concerns over students.

“Teachers having a say is absolutely critical to the process,” she said. “They’ve been in the classroom, or principal, they see the management side of things, but I also know that it’s critically important that we have other people with expertise, objectively so that our students win.”

Kaleida, who also received a $5,000 contribution from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, declined a camera interview, but told KDKA:

“They (the AFT) supported me because we share a vision of community schools and shared justice to achieve a great public school system in Pittsburgh. I will represent the entire community but I am proud of everyone who contributed to my campaign.”

But there are other complications. Kaleida is married to a teacher and she and the three former teachers on the board might benefit from a favorable contract with the teachers union. It’s unclear if they would be able to vote on it.

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