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Two groups, two school districts, one township

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jun 5, 2015 5:50 AM

(York) -- Some parents in a York County township want their children to jump from one school district to another. 

The case, one of the more extraordinary in recent years, would allow Washington Township to move from Dover Area School District to Northern York County.

Daniel Fennick, attorney for the group pushing for the change, says it's relatively straightforward.

"All the data shows that Northern out-performs Dover, and most of the people in Washington Township are in favor of moving from Dover to Northern," he says.

Dover Area School District concedes Northern York's test scores are better.

But if the scores are adjusted for poverty levels, Dover is actually as good, or slightly better than Northern York County.

District Solicitor Benjamin Pratt is confident in his arguments.

"But also providing enough information and enough analysis to show that the educational merit's not there, and therefore that the petition should be denied," he says.

"I don't want to be critical of Dover, there are plenty of people in Dover who are wonderful, there are lots of kids getting a great education in Dover," Fennick says. "But it just does not seem as though Dover is preparing itself for the future."

But Dover Area School District argues when accounting for poverty rates, its students outperform the expected results.

Benjamin Pratt, the district's solicitor, says Washington Township parents pushing for change have to clear a higher bar.

"And that's the standard that this committee and the Board of Education have to look at, is the substantial difference. They didn't do it."

It's taken four years to get to this point.

Washington Township Education Coalition first started collecting signatures to leave Dover Area School District in 2012.

With a ruling in the group's favor, nearly every Dover student who comes from Washington Township would instead go to Northern York County Schools.

The hearings came after the former state education secretary ruled the request could proceed.

Here are the issues:

Test scores.

On the whole Northern York's are higher - both state standardized tests and SAT's, and Dover concedes that.

But an expert called by Dover contends when taking into account poverty rates, it actually is at least as good, if not better, than Northern.

An attorney for the group pushing for change, Daniel Fennick, counters it.

"That is a really, really hard question. There is no doubt that poverty stresses families, but when everything that we can measure shows Northern ahead, we have to hope that the committee says poverty may account for some, but not all," he says.

Does the committee look at the raw numbers, which favor Northern, or do they look at adjustments made for poverty, which are better for Dover?

Facilities.

"They're going to get a lot more crowded because of the amount of housing development and it's going to stress the district, expenses are going to get much higher, and that's hard for everybody," Fennick says.

He argues Dover hasn't done the necessary preparation, which he says will affect students in the future.

Dover's Solicitor Benjamin Pratt says the differences aren't significant enough.

"They keep saying that they're better. But the fact that's not the standard, substantially better is the standard," he says.

Taxes.

Simply put, Northern York's are lower than Dover's.

Dover argues the educational coalition trumpeted the fact on campaign materials, to get people to sign. Fennick isn't apologizing.

"You know what, we can get the best of both worlds and I just don't understand what's wrong with wanting a better education at a lower cost?" he asks.

Dover says the Washington Township Education Coalition is motivated to save money, not get kids a better education.

They point to lawn signs proclaiming lower taxes, with better academics just getting a mention.

So here's an important point -- back in 2014, when then-Acting state Secretary Caroline Dumaresq ruled the case could proceed, she only considered the educational merits.

There's no set limit to what the committee considers.

Dover Solicitor Benjamin Pratt says if the panel keep its scope narrow, he feels confident.

"The question of educational merit, I do not believe they provided enough information that one is better than the other," he says.

The Washington Township Education Coalition's attorney says since Dumaresq didn't halt the process, this committee now just needs to go along.

The final decision will eventually come from the State Board of Education.

Note: An earlier version of this story said Education Secretary Pedro Rivera will make the final decision. He does not; the State Board of Education does. 

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