To say the York City School District is "financially distressed" is an understatement by many measures.
Facing yet another massive deficit -- $19 million for the 2012-13 school year, after the current year's $25 million deficit -- the district is facing another round of drastic cuts and teacher layoffs.
It's more disastrous than simply distressing.
We all know where this train is heading, and it's not pleasant station.
Someone has to step in and pull the brake before there's nothing left worth saving.
The state Senate Education Committee thinks it has the answer. It approved a bill Tuesday that would allow the state to take over financially distressed school districts and appoint a conservator to oversee their finances and draft a recovery plan.
It applies to just four districts: York, Chester Upland, Duquesne City and Harrisburg.
At first glance, it seems like just the sort of action that's needed.
The school boards have had their shots and for whatever reasons haven't been able to get the jobs done.
Could the state do any worse?
Well ... sure it could.
In fact, the state approved a takeover of the Harrisburg School District in 2000, putting it under the control of the mayor until 2010.
Yet here it is on the takeover list again.
The state had 10 years to right Harrisburg School District's financial ship, but apparently it's still sinking.
A takeover of some sort is absolutely a plan worth exploring, but it's not clear if this bill will solve the problems of districts like York's.
According to state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, chairman of the Education Committee, chief recovery officers would be appointed by the state to immediately develop a plan to get the districts out of financial duress.
Created in conjunction with the districts, the plans would be presented to the school boards for approval. If they go along, the boards would be obligated to stick to the terms -- although the boards would still be allowed to make day-to-day decisions as long as they don't intrude on the recovery blueprints.
But the boards are free to reject the plans -- which Piccola says would likely prompt a court fight.
The "carrot," as Piccola calls it, is that the districts would have access to no-interest loans to help get them back on solid ground, as well as the ability to more easily convert a school into a charter school and renegotiate teacher contracts to lower salary increases or benefits.
First: Good luck renegotiating teacher contracts. If it were that easy, it would have been done long ago.
Secondly, charter schools are part of the reason York City is in this mess -- that and the fact the state cut off charter tuition reimbursement in the current year's budget and plans to do the same in the coming budget.
If the state really wants to help, said York City School District business consultant James Duff, it should restore the grant money. The district stands to lose $8 million in tuition reimbursement alone next fiscal year.
"We don't need a chief recovery officer. We need the money," Duff said.
Piccola is dismissive of that idea, likening it to "throwing good money after bad."
It's an attitude we see from other lawmakers and the governor, that districts got themselves into this mess and should be responsible for cleaning it up.
They seem to forget the Legislature dumped a huge financial burden on school districts in 2001, when lawmakers gave themselves a 50 percent pension increase and tossed teachers and state workers a 25 percent increase in pension benefits for the heck of it.
As a result, teacher pension costs are expected to rise from $1.6 billion to more than $4 billion in the next four years.
Maybe a chief recovery officer can fix that.
It's worth a look.