York City School District is an autograph away from having its finances controlled by the state.
A bill for financially distressed schools awaits the governor's signature after getting House and Senate approval.
Only state Rep. Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat representing York City, dissented amongst York County lawmakers.
The bill would allow the state to declare York City, Harrisburg, Chester-Upland and Duquesne school districts financially distressed.
York City and Harrisburg would be labeled as "moderately" distressed and, at some point in late summer, would be appointed a chief recovery officer.
The recovery officer would be selected by the state to provide oversight and would work with York City to craft a financial recovery plan.
The recovery officer's plan would need the approval of the school board. Once the board approves the plan, they are bound by law to follow it. The plan could include ideas such as converting schools to charters, reducing programs and reopening contracts, although the state couldn't force a wage freeze. The recovery officer would ensure the board is following the plan.
Chester-Upland and Duquesne, which are "severely" distressed according to the bill, would immediately get a receiver who would get much more authority. The receiver could do everything but set the tax rate, according to lawmakers.
York City could still end up getting a receiver. If the board rejects the recovery officer's plan, the two sides would have up to one year to develop a plan that works for everyone.
If no agreement is reached, the state will petition the Court of Common Pleas to appoint a receiver for the district, and at that point, York City would have no choice but to follow the state's plan.
'We're the model': York City Superintendent Deborah Wortham said she believes her district is already ahead of the curve in its recovery plan, since the administration has been meeting with state officials for a year to get back on track and get their budget under control.
"We're the model," Wortham said.
The district just got an extra $5 million from the state to help reduce budget cuts and a tax hike for next year. Interest-free loans will be made available to financially distressed districts, but, as Wortham said, "How would we pay that back?"
Early warning: State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover, said he likes that the bill includes a new early warning system to help the state pinpoint districts approaching financially distressed status. Those districts will get extra staff support from the state to help them avoid landing on the list.
DePasquale said the premise of the bill makes sense, but there were no details included in bill's language about how the recovery officer or what qualifications would be required.
"We pass this bill that gives one person sort of this unique power, and we don't even know who they are," DePasquale said.
And DePasquale said he also is bewildered because the bill would make it illegal for a school board member in a financially distressed school district to resign from the board once the plan is in effect.
What if the board member, which is a volunteer position, gets a new job, or has a health issue, or just needs to move?
"No one can give me a good answer for that," he said.
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