The state-appointed official guiding the York City School District through its financial recovery plan recommended Wednesday that the district focus its efforts on vetting the backgrounds of two companies that have proposed converting all city schools to charters a year from now.
David Meckley based that advice on the feedback of about 15 Community Education Council members who ranked each of the seven submitted charter proposals following a public presentation last week. District business manager Richard Snodgrass also offered his analysis of the proposals' financial viability.
Charter Schools USA and Mosaica Education Inc. earned the most favorable rankings.
Meckley said district officials should look more closely at those companies "with the intention of trying to establish some potential draft agreements."
"We do not have the resources to investigate all (seven) providers in great detail," he said. "The recommendation is to use the resources that we have to concentrate and focus on these two."
Any future agreements would have to be approved by the school board, he said.
Plan: To investigate the companies, a team of district officials will conduct site visits at other schools operated by the charters, check references, host public meetings and thoroughly evaluate the financial aspect of each proposal, Meckley said.
The district has positioned itself to make a final decision before November about whether to turn operations over to an external charter provider or continue on a path of internal transformation.
Meckley said he is convinced "that the financial aspects of this (recovery) plan can be met with outside providers."
"The next two months could be very busy. There is not a specific time deadline," Meckley said. "If we need more time to make a decision, that can happen as well. The general timeline is to get started quickly."
Meckley's presentation kicked off a two-hour public-comment session that included passionate pleas from teachers, parents and community activists to reject charters as the solution to the district's financial and academic challenges.
Doubts: Several school board members were skeptical of charter conversions and expressed frustration with the stalled negotiations between the district and the teachers union.
The district's recovery plan took effect for the 2013-14 academic year. Known as the internal-transformation model, the strategy was proposed by union and administration leaders.
However, charter conversions are the alternative if the transformation model does not achieve its performance goals or if the district is not able to achieve its financial goals. Its success hinges on wage and benefit concessions from teachers, support staff and administrators.
School board member Michael Breeland directly addressed the president of the teachers union, Bruce Riek, who was sitting in the audience.
"I'm hearing the scuttlebutt from all ends, but the thing that stands out the most to me is that I need for your organization to step up and do what you need to do," Breeland said.
Meckley reiterated that time has not run out for the internal plan, but it can't move forward until there's "a financial structure that's viable."
"Until that financial structure is there, there is no internal plan option. Period," he said.
The union's president-elect, Ira Schneider, said the union is "always" willing to negotiate.
"I would love for nothing more than to get together with the teachers union and hash this out," another board member, Glenn Medice, said. "But since we're not getting this done, the clock is ticking. We continue to lose students."
Board President Margie Orr said she doesn't "want this district to go charter."
"But we need to do what's necessary for our kids to get a good education," she said.
Lawsuit?: Sandra Thompson, president of the York NAACP and a local attorney, said she's willing to file a lawsuit on behalf of parents who don't want the district converted to charter schools.
She said charter companies amount to a new management team that will have the same students, parents and tax base.
"Where are new teachers coming from?" she said. "Unless they're bussing or flying them in, these are going to be the same teachers."
The proposals might be more financially viable, she said, because the teachers won't be unionized and, therefore, paid less.
Jeff Kirkland, a former school board member, urged the board to reject the charter proposals.
"Don't let your name go down as someone that was complicit in selling out our children to these profit organizations," he said.
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