York City's Financial Recovery Advisory Committee got its first taste of recommendations for the future of York City schools.
The committee, tabbed by state-appointed Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley to help find a new direction for the district, heard ideas from outside groups at Wednesday's meeting.
That's when York County Community Foundation and York Counts, in a combined report, delivered their recommendation: convert all of York City into charter school academies.
The "groundbreaking, precedent-setting" idea would help solve York City schools' financial mess, enrollment bleeding, and community dissatisfaction all in one fell swoop, said officials from an education task for of foundation and York Counts members.
The foundation/York Counts task force, which includes members such as Mayor Kim Bracey and former U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, said their findings were the only feasible scenario to improve York City's plight.
York City's recovery committee is spending the next few months coming up with recommendations for Meckley to consider. He'll then write his recommendations to the York City School Board, which will likely vote on it around April. The financial recovery process, which kicked off in December, is mandated by the state because of York City's financial woes.
The task force wanted a systemic change in city schools, not just a Band-aid approach. That left ideas such as vouchers off the list, said Eric Menzer, a task force member.
Menzer also said doing a widespread transformation from within the district wouldn't work, either, as that method takes too long and hasn't been working so far.
Converting to all charters would net a faster change, have a better chance to save the district money and more likely would restore confidence in the community, Menzer said.
How it would work:The overview of the recommendation:
* The district would put out a request for a proposal on a national level seeking companies that want to convert schools into charters; Menzer admitted this is a tall task as the very best companies have a lot of demand. The RFP would only be for nonprofit companies, and would have several performance standards that must be met in order to keep the charter. Task force officials said some changes to state charter law might be needed to give York City the flexibility it would need to accomplish all of this.
* The schools would be converted into charter academies with specific learning styles and themes.
* Students in York City would be able to attend any school, rather than just the closest one.
* Students from outside York City would be welcome as well, as task force officials said this could help get wealthier families to enroll in York City.
Nothing is finalized at this point, as the recommendations by the task force were meant to help the Financial Recovery Advisory Committee brainstorm ideas. And all involved said they don't have details yet such as cost and the logistics of how it would work, since the recovery committee hasn't yet requested to learn more.
"You have set a high mark," said advisory committee member Genevieve Ray. Meckley added the task force's recommendations are "bold and innovative," but emphasized the committee needs to consider whether they want to find out more.
The task force members said charter schools might have a negative connotation in York City by some, but they do well in other parts of the country, such as Baltimore and New Orleans.
A major change is needed, one way or the other, the task force concluded.
"The status quo is not accomplishing what we all want and our children deserve," Menzer said.
Financial projection not rosy: The recovery committee also heard from PFM, a Philadelphia financial consulting firm being paid for by the state to assist the committee.
PFM managing director Dean Kaplan painted a five-year financial picture for York City, and it's dire.
Charter school enrollment - this does not include any of the recommendations by York Counts, just existing charters - would grow by 1,100 students, from 2,427 students as of January 2013 to 3,567 by 2018. York City School District enrollment in that same tie would drop from 4,799 students now to 4,188 in five years.
That, in part, helped create a huge deficit scenario in 2018. Assuming no wage increases or changes to state aid calculations, York City would still have a $21 million deficit in the 2017-18 school year, Kaplan said. Sluggish revenue growth hurts, he said. And charter school tuition payments - again, only to existing charters - would by 2018 account for half of the district's project $140 million 2017-18 budget.
The recovery committee also said they want ideas from the community, specifically seeking ideas that would improve three high-impact areas: financial improvement, student safety/health, and academic performance. Information on the committee and its schedule can be found at www.ycsdrecoveryplan.org.