I don’t know about where you live, but in Pittsburgh (and Pennsylvania in general), the school districts and the local governments are completely separate animals. Which, when you think about it, sometimes makes sense, and sometimes doesn’t. Since I’ve been working in and around government for over a decade, this is second nature to me, but I recently had a convo with my friend Leah about local governments vs. school districts and realized that’s not always the case.
In that instance, we were debating the sway that the city’s next mayor could have over school lunches. Leah’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (scroll to the bottom, she’s there, I swear!) last week called for the new mayor to advocate for better school food in Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS). She’d initially called for the new mayor to change the school food system, until I reminded her that the city and the school district are two entirely different entities.
Thankfully, Tuesday’s mayoral primary makes it pretty darn clear that Bill Peduto will be the city’s next mayor (don’t get me started on the current one). Peduto’s been running for mayor since 2005, and has a huge, well-thought-out list of 100 different things he’ll work on once he’s mayor. Two of his points directly impact the schools/school lunch conversation: #36, Working Together to Improve Public Education, and #26, Get Fresh Pittsburgh: Providing Neighborhood Access to Fresh, Healthy Food. Peduto specifically advocates starting #26 in our schools.
While separate entities, the district needs to recognize the value in working with the city on improving the schools, both overall and with respect to the food in the schools.
Technically, the mayor has no sway. But he can certainly advocate for change because the district’s decisions impact the economic development opportunities for the city as a whole. Imagine if the city could tout truly healthy school lunches as part of a broader healthy child curriculum and an economic development opportunity. Wouldn’t that position Pittsburgh as a more well-rounded green, sustainable, healthy place to attract new investment and jobs? It seems that it would position the city to be even more attractive to workers with families. And don’t forget workforce training – it’s well-documented that the quality of food directly impacts the ability of children to learn. If we’re going to have a good future workforce, we need to raise them well. Crap food makes unhealthy kids.
So congratulations to Peduto – and help him make these two, and all 100 bullet points, happen for the city. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood!