Status Quo is Not an Answer For York City Schools
1/5/2015
By: Rep. Seth Grove (R-Dover), Rep. Stan Saylor (R-Red Lion) and Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York)

In December 2012, the Secretary of Education declared York City School District in moderate financial distress. By law, the school board was expected to follow the directives of the Chief Recovery Officer (CRO) along with the creation and implementation of a financial recovery plan. As the law clearly stated, any failure to implement the recovery plan or follow a directive triggers a petition from the secretary to the Court of Common Pleas. This petition requests the court place the district into receivership. Under CRO David Meckley, the school board for York City approved a financial recovery plan, which had internal and external models for recovery. After two years for the internal recovery to be implemented, there was still no union contract reflecting the concessions necessary to fulfill the plan, and no evidence of academic improvement. This left Mr. Meckley with little choice but to move forward with consideration of the external option. As the process to implement an external recovery model moved forward, continued failure of the school board to take the necessary actions for recovery triggered a petition to the court for receivership. We cannot stress enough that an internal reform was the primary goal.

On Dec. 26, 2014, President Judge Stephen Linebaugh issued a very conservative ruling in favor of the Department of Education. This ruling marks an important step forward to improve the financial viability of York City School District and the city as a whole; the future success of York City depends on improving its educational system. In his decision, Judge Linebaugh carefully applied the law, which was designed to help financially struggling school districts. Those opposed to the court’s decision to appoint a receiver insist the status quo in York City School District will work. This is a status quo which ranks second to last in the Commonwealth and continues to remain financially unsustainable. Second to last is not acceptable. The students and citizens of York deserve better.

The argument against reform reasoned the state should not take action prior to the new administration being sworn in. However, the judge was right in reminding all parties the court does not take into consideration the politics of the moment when applying the law. In reality, there isn’t any other viable alternative. Internal reforms have not resulted in financial savings or significant academic improvement. The school board has undermined this process by adopting an employee contract which failed to meet the recovery plan and then it quickly rescinding its vote. After employee union negotiators approved an agreement, their membership rejected it twice. Consolidation of school districts will be rejected by taxpayers, as they do not want to see their taxes increase and assume the huge debt of York City School District. To this day, not one single entity or person opposed to conversion has proposed a single viable option to transform the York City School District from academic and financial failure to success.

In the defense of the status quo, the opposition has repeatedly said that none of the parents or students wants this change. However, it neglects to mention that nearly a third of students have already fled the district to go to charter or other schools. These students and their families were left with no choice to receive a quality education.

In addition, the supporters of the current system have blamed the policies of the Corbett Administration for the financial difficulty, claiming that all the district needs is more money; however, the facts of the case clearly show that during those years, Republicans in the General Assembly worked with the current administration to improve education for students in York City. These efforts included providing York City schools additional supplemental funding of $12 million over the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years. Absent this $12 million infusion, York City would currently be facing a larger deficit. Additionally, the administration and Republicans in the Legislature funneled $1.7 million into York City to reimburse the city for construction costs associated with education. Despite the almost $14 million in additional state funds, the York City School District is still projected to still run increasing yearly deficits while being ranked academically 499th out of 500 school districts.

If you want to point blame, look to President Barack Obama’s failed stimulus package, which decimated school budgets to a tune of $1 billion. Gov. Ed Rendell then replaced state money with one-time federal stimulus money. Instead of using this stimulus money to address our pension crisis, the mismanagement of education funding under the Rendell Administration forced struggling districts such as York City to make difficult financial choices. These choices, coupled with poor financial decisions at the local level, led York City School District to cut back on programs, along with the teachers who taught those subjects.

Finally, one overlooked and not often discussed aspect is the reinvestment dollars Charter Schools USA is willing to put into York City. The defenders of the status quo claim that the outside operator, selected by Mr. Meckley through a competitive process, should not be allowed to operate district schools because it is a for-profit company. They are willing to help potentially cut York City School District property taxes by as much as 11 percent or $3 million, on top of providing scholarships and other incentives to residents and students which, depending on enrollment, looks to be around $800,000. For the first time in decades, city taxpayers will actually see a tax cut. In addition to the enrichment provision (giving money back), the proposed contract would MANDATE the operator to produce academic results, where the internal reforms did not even meet the still failing level of academic performance as outlined in the recovery plan. Yes, the goal was below failing and not one school met its goal.

As such, we applaud the court’s decision as it is in the best interest of the students attending schools in York City. After all, ensuring a quality education is Step 1 in returning York City to prominence and breaking down barriers which keep people in poverty. Let’s stop holding students hostage through endless court proceedings. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and work as a team to improve York City. I will not accept failure in education, but believe every student deserves a quality education regardless of who provides it.

Representative Seth Grove
196th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Nick Ruffner
717.260.6258
nruffner@pahousegop.com  
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