Meckley's departure meets with approval and disappointment

Written by Angie Mason and Dylan Segelbaum, York Daily Record | Mar 16, 2015 7:51 AM

Even those with differing opinions on the departure of the York City School District's chief recovery officer seem to agree on one thing: it's time for change in the district.


Photo by Kate Penn, York Daily Record / Sunday News

David Meckley resigned from his position as Chief Recovery Officer for the School District of the City of York Friday, March 13, 2015. Photo taken at the York Daily Record/Sunday News in West Manchester Township.

"We cannot continue to go on with the status quo and business as usual," said York City School Board member Michael Breeland.

David Meckley resigned as the state-appointed chief recovery officer for the district on Friday, citing opposition from Gov. Tom Wolf's administration to converting any schools to charters, the path Meckley believes is necessary to move the district forward.

Breeland said that with or without Meckley's resignation, "I think the district needs to move forward with a total transformational plan that changes the way education is addressed in this district."

Breeland wants to see more student engagement and out-of-the-box thinking, he said. He hopes whoever comes in as chief recovery officer - Meckley said a new one is being sought - has such ideas and that the conversation isn't dominated by the threat of charters.

But a supporter of the charter idea said he's disappointed to see Meckley go.

Bill Hartman, president of the York County Community Foundation, said Meckley did an "excellent job" of putting together alternative recovery plans for the district. A workgroup of YorkCounts, a foundation initiative, first proposed the idea of converting schools to charters when the district's recovery process started.

"We think it's a mistake to take charters off the table," he said, adding that charters offer an opportunity to address governance, accountability and flexibility in the district, and improve leadership and performance.

Hartman said investing more money in the district "would just make a failed system more expensive and be unfair to both taxpayers and children of the City of York."

He thinks a new recovery officer needs to be someone willing to make major changes in the approach to public education. The foundation is willing to help, but does not want "to see a perpetuation of the status quo."

Opinions on Meckley's departure

Diane Brown, another board member, said Meckley's resignation is a "great thing" for the district. She believes he didn't do enough to embrace parents and community members and that things could have been different if he had.

"I hope that all of the community organizations (and) agencies that he went to in hopes of partnering with (Charter Schools USA), that they will partner with York City School District," she said. "That baffled me, too. They could've been partnering with us."

Brown said a lot of the district's problems were caused by lack of resources, so she's hopeful that additional funding Wolf has proposed comes through. She said she expects there to be more information coming about plans that could include things like more staff and programs.

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township and House education committee chairman, wants a say in how money flows to the district. Saylor said that he talked with Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera earlier this week before Meckley announced his resignation. Before any more taxpayer money is given to the district, Saylor said, he would want an audit of its finances conducted.

Saylor said Meckley did "an oustanding job." He said that he wants to speak to Wolf, as well as the York County delegation, about what the next steps are for the school district -- hopefully within the next week.

York Mayor Kim Bracey said Meckley is a sound businessman who put the district on more sound financial footing, noting the district isn't operating with a deficit at this point.

Maybe charters would have worked financially, she said, adding that she's not certain given the drain charters put on public tax dollars. But with the governor saying he's not looking at that model, that may mean leveling the playing field, she said. Students in York City should have every tool those in York Suburban School District do, she said.

"When you have stripped the district completely of options and opportunities for young people to even succeed I don't know how you can possibly expect to get a different result, and in one year," she said.

Court case

Sandra Thompson, president of the York NAACP, said it's unclear at this time what Meckley's resignation means for the district's pending appeal of the decision to name him receiver.

Thompson said she believes the petition for receivership should be withdrawn, though that is up to the Wolf administration. Spokesman Jeff Sheridan could not be reached for comment.

She said the state had pushed for receivership because the York City School Board did not follow Meckley's instructions and agree to convert the district's buildings into charters.

Meckley had lost the trust of the community, Thompson said, and it felt his recommendations were not in their best interest.

"That is hopeful and helpful to the community to know that Gov. Wolf is following our voice -- the things that we've been asking for," she said. "That is all very good and presents a ray of hope to the community.

Looking ahead

Bracey said she wants to do all she can to help turn the district around.

Though she philosophically disagreed with Meckley, she said, she thinks he's provided a solid foundation to work from.

"His options were charters and that's not the state's desire," Bracey said. "I respect his decision and thank him for all he's done."

Brown said the school district's community must step up.

"If we (have) learned anything from this, we need to realize that as a district, we need to keep our parents informed," she said. "Our parents are not always as engaged as they should be. We as a district need to make sure they are, by any means necessary."

Why he left

David Meckley told the York Daily Record/Sunday News in an interview Friday that, around December, he, district administrators, the proposed charter board and some community leaders had crafted an alternative plan that involved a mix of district- and charter-run buildings. He said he had significant conversations with the Wolf administration about it, but "ultimately the position came down that charters are off the table."

Meckley said he agreed to stay as chief recovery officer until a replacement was found. But, he said, two Community Education Council meetings had to be canceled because no one had been appointed.

"That was the trigger to say I need to resign," he said. "We know where this is going."

This article comes to us through a partnership between the York Daily Record and WITF.

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