State cleared to take over York City School District

Written by Emily Previti/Keystone Crossroads | Dec 26, 2014 11:01 AM

Photo by Emily Previti/Keystone Crossroads

(York) -- State officials can take over the struggling York City School District, a judge has ruled.

York County Judge Stephen Linebaugh issued his decision Friday, less than a month after the Pennsylvania Department of Education filed its petition for a receivership – as a state takeover is called.

State officials have said they would, if approved for a receivership, bring in Charter Schools USA to operate the district.

So this means York likely will be the first city in the Commonwealth - and only one in the nation – where public education is provided exclusively by a private company.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association plans to appeal, according to a statement released by the statewide teachers union immediately after the ruling Friday morning.

“York’s citizens don’t want this, the elected school board doesn’t want this, and parents and educators don’t want this,” said PSEA President Michael Crossey. 

Citing the district’s financial problems, PDE declared York schools in recovery status and appointed David Meckley chief recovery officer, or CRO, in late 2012.

State law triggers a receivership petition if officials in a recovery school district act against the wishes of the CRO or in violation of their approved recovery plan, which is supposed to be collaboratively developed.

In this case, one action was the board’s refusal to vote on a charter school operator contract until the company provided more information.

The other was its vote on a teachers and staff union contract that didn’t cut as much as set out in the recovery plan.

York City School District decision

In his decision, Linebaugh noted Meckley’s “clear” and “credible” testimony, but that the ruling did not consider “the details, the appropriateness or the legality” of the district’s recovery plan.”

“Although the District and YCEA … pointed to deficient information in the plan, the Legislature has not permitted the court to engage in this kind of analysis,” Linebaugh wrote.

Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq called the ruling the start to “returning a high-quality education to the students and community of York” in a written statement issued just after the ruling.

““Mr. Meckley can now implement the much-needed financial recovery plan that will improve the district’s educational programs, increase student achievement and restore financial stability to the district,” Dumaresq said in the release.

PDE spokesman Tim Eller said previously Dumaresq, a 45-year educator who spent the last dozen heading PSEA, would be available for an interview with WITF after she has a chance to review the decision.

Tom Scott, the unions’ attorney, argued that the recovery plan wasn’t updated to reflect actual financial outcomes and the district’s better-than-expected fiscal position.

Scott also argued that the district should not be in recovery status in the first place.

The state’s primary reason for York’s recovery status was that the district sought an advance for its basic education subsidy.

But that request was made in April 2013 – three months before doing so became a criterion for recovery status and corrective state intervention.

Gov. Corbett signed Act 141 into law in July 2013. The law amended the Pennsylvania School Code to provide for recovery and receivership in financially distressed school districts.

This post will be updated.

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