Questions abound on York City School District's proposed financial recovery plan. The plan will be presented to the York City School Board on Wednesday by state-appointed Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley.
Meckley and a committee of 20 community members have been working for months to make a recommendation on how the district can repair its finances, improve academics, and increase safety. The process was kicked off when the state placed York City schools in "moderate" financial recovery, appointing Meckley to craft a plan for the board to vote on. The district will be obligated to follow through on the plan once the board approves it, which could happen next month.
Here are answers to some common questions about the plan, according to information supplied so far at committee meetings and from officials involved. In some cases, the definitive answer is not yet known, because Meckley has to formally put together a report. He has only indicated he prefers a plan that was backed by the district, one that would allow the district to undergo an "internal transformation." The other option, a full charter conversion, appears to be off the table.
Will all schools stay open and the grade configuration remain the same?
Yes. The K-8 model installed this year would remain the same. But some schools would be modified to become magnet schools.
What is a magnet school, and how would the program in a magnet school differ from non-magnets?
Magnet schools are themed schools that take in students outside their neighborhood. Students would take specialty classes in those theme areas, but still get regular academics. District officials said students living in the attendance area of that magnet school would have a seat, but could choose to enroll in another district school if they do not want a theme and if a seat is available.
The point is that a magnet school's theme could help attract students away from charter schools as well as attract tuition-paying students from other districts. A magnet school is still a public school and would not cost a parent anything.
The district wants to add seven teachers to help with the magnet-themed schools.
What schools will be magnets and what will be their specialties?
The plan would expand Ferguson K-8 school's Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program into a full magnet theme, and turn Davis K-8 school into a performing arts magnet theme. Additional magnet themes could be possible if the plan succeeds.
How will it be decided which students attend a magnet, and, if it's not their neighborhood school, will transportation be provided?
A school's attendance zone would still be in effect. After that, whatever seats are available would be given to interested students outside that zone; a lottery could be used. Transportation issues have not yet been finalized; York City does not currently offer busing.
Will the magnet concept carry over to the high school?
That has not been part of the discussion.
Will any other new programs be added?
Pre-kindergarten would be added. York City officials said they believe adding pre-kindergarten will help make the district more competitive with charter schools and increase academic success. Six pre-kindergarten teachers would be hired.
All the schools would run on "site-based management," meaning parents and staff at the schools would get to make decisions on how the school runs. An advisory group of at least 50 percent parents would be chosen to oversee the school and make sure it is meeting standards and reaching out the community.
Will all teachers be retained under this plan? How about administrators? The final configuration of teachers and administrators is still being determined and depends in large part on how many charter school students the district feels it can attract. But the district said 13 additional teachers would be needed at the pre-kindergarten level and at magnet schools.
What type of concessions will teachers, administrators and support staff have to make in order for the district to save money under this option?
Salary concessions would begin in 2014-15. In a worst-case scenario, that year the salary cuts would range from 5.8 percent for clerical and custodial staff to 17.5 percent for administrators, with teachers somewhere in the middle. In following years, there would be more uniform cuts of about 6 to 7 percent per year. That's according to ballpark estimates by PFM, a financial consultant for the financial recovery committee.
However, if York City is able to attract hundreds of charter school students back each year, it will save millions of dollars in tuition, and the salary cuts could be far less, perhaps just 1 to 2 percent each year.
Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley said the exact details of the cuts haven't been decided yet, as the union and district still need to agree on a formula to calculate how deep the salary cuts would be based on what number of students come back. The exact cuts might not even be decided until after the school board approves the recovery plan; the board would just have an understanding that salary cuts would be involved.
What else will York City be doing to become financially solvent?
The district may be taking out a loan, possibly as much as $11 million, from the state. The state has said it will make zero-interest loans available to schools in financial recovery to get them out of their predicament.
Who will oversee the schools under this plan?
Superintendent Deborah Wortham would still be in charge. But Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley, who is recommending the plan and is state-appointed, would continue to oversee the plan's implementation. A council of community members would be appointed by Meckley to help oversee the plan at the district level, as well as set benchmarks for the district to meet.
The council would need to run actions it wants to take by the school board for approval; the school board, other than setting the tax rate, would need to run at least some of its actions by the council as part of a "cooperative" partnership, Meckley has said. The exact logistics of how the council would work haven't been announced.
Who will make up those new site-specific committees and how will those individuals be selected?
Parents, school officials and community members would be chosen to form a committee for each school. A community council that would oversee the entire district in cooperation with the school board would be in charge of appointing the individual school councils. Meckley would appoint the districtwide council, which would be by application and have a similar composition.
How will the success of the transformation be measured and under what timeframe?
That's what the districtwide and the school councils are there for. They will make up performance standards for schools and staff to meet. This won't necessarily be the same thing as meeting marks on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment or Keystone exams, although that could be part of it.
Community involvement is going to be a major factor, as schools will be expected to have a good partnership with parents. Meckley has said a school would have about three years starting this fall to prove itself.
What happens if it's deemed unsuccessful? Charter school conversions could happen if a school does not make progress by the end of the 2015-16 school year. And if the district is not deemed by the state to be properly following the plan, it could face further state intervention and the appointment of a receiver, who would have much more authority.
What if the school board doesn't want to do it?
The board doesn't really have a choice. It could vote down the plan, buying a matter of months to come up with a compromise with Meckley. But the state can appoint a receiver if no agreement is made, and at that point, the school board loses its authority. This is essentially York City's new direction, one way or the other.
How will this impact the district budget?
The 2013-14 district budget is somewhat frozen in progress until the plan is in place, since the plan greatly impacts district finances.
When will the schools be transformed? When will this start?
Aspects of the plan could be put in place immediately, but it will be an ongoing process for full implementation. The advisory councils, for instance, wouldn't be running until the fall. But the magnet themes could be in place by the start of the school year. Nothing will be known for sure until the school board approves the plan, since that's when details will be firm.
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