The York City School District is protesting its designation by the state as financially distressed, which must come as quite a surprise to city residents.
After years of multi-million-dollar deficits and tax increases, teacher layoffs, school closures and program cuts, the label seems to fit quite nicely.
Still, solicitors for the district recently sent a letter to the state Department of Education saying they believe there isn't enough information to show York City schools qualify for financial recovery status.
York City was among four districts to be given the designation by the state this summer as part of a new law to help get those districts' finances in order.
The law would place York City, Harrisburg, Duquesne and Chester Upland school districts under state supervision, in the form of an appointed recovery officer who would provide oversight and work with the districts to craft financial recovery plans.
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.
If approved, the school board would be required to implement the plan, and the recovery officer would ensure that it does.
All of this, however, hinges on whether the financially distressed label sticks.
We understand the desire to maintain local control, but the district's own letter appealing its distressed status instead makes a good case for it.
In it, the district's solicitors admit an audit revealed a fund balance from the 2010-11 school year that "may have been substantially overstated by approximately three million dollars which, if true, would have eliminated or substantially eliminated the District's fund balance -- a balance that was used, in part, to balance the 2011-12 fiscal year budget."
And they acknowledged a former business manager made errors in budget calculations, such as forgetting to account for all charter school payments, that unbalanced the 2011-12 budget.
And yes, the solicitors wrote, the York City School District did get an advance on its funding in April 2012 because of cash flow problems. (It just so happened that the new state law outlined financial recovery status in part as any district that got a funding advance.)
Financial recovery status it is.
A Department of Education spokesman said a hearing will be scheduled "in the near future" to resolve the matter, with Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis making the final decision on the district's status.
State oversight might be hard to swallow, but there's no arguing the fact York City schools need help.
The situation gets worse and worse each year, and property owners can't take tax hikes to bail the district out.
City residents' cumulative tax bills -- county, municipal and school district -- already average nearly twice as much for a similarly valued home in York Haven, which has the next highest cumulative rate.
People are moving out, and few are replacing them. Home sales have dropped 31 percent since last year and the median sales price has hit $35,000 -- the price of a nicely equipped SUV.
In York City, financially distressed is putting it mildly.