State appointee gives York City school board an ultimatum

Erin James
The York Dispatch

Editor's note: This article was originally published Nov. 10, 2014.

The state official pushing for conversion of all York City schools to charter schools has given the district's school board an ultimatum.

In an unannounced presentation Monday, David Meckley said he is directing the board to approve a contract with Charter Schools USA at the board's meeting next week.

Meckley, the district's state-appointed financial recovery officer, said the agreement will turn over operation of all district schools to the for-profit company July 1, 2015.

If the board does not approve the agreement, Meckley said, he will advise the state Department of Education to pursue receivership.

Receivership, which requires the approval of the York County Court of Common Pleas, would strip the school board of most of its power.

Not public: Meckley said he delivered a copy of the draft agreement with Charter Schools USA to the school board Monday.

He said he does not plan on releasing the document to the public before the board's Wednesday, Nov. 19 meeting.

"Most school contracts are not public documents," Meckley said.

Financial distress: The state designated the York City School District as financially distressed in 2012, triggering a recovery process steered by Meckley.

Last month, Meckley said he'd concluded after a two-year planning process that the district's best chance for financial and academic improvements would be through transition of the district's eight buildings to management by a for-profit charter company.

However, in the interest of building consensus among skeptical school board members and other stakeholders, Meckley instead proposed a hybrid model for the 2015-16 school year.

That idea was enthusiastically rejected by the board in a 7-2 vote preceded by three hours of public comment, all from people opposed to the proposal.

Politics involved: A few weeks later, Pennsylvania voters elected a new governor to take office in January.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, a Democrat from York County, said at a public appearance in September that he does not support York City's public schools going to an all charter system.

Wolf's election last week prompted state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, to send a letter to the state Department of Education asking that "substantial decisions" on the future of the York City School District be delayed until Wolf takes office.

In an interview Thursday, Wolf said he appreciates Schreiber's request. He said it would make sense for the state to delay major decisions until he takes office.

On Monday, Meckley said that he's had conversations with Wolf and with members of the York County legislative delegation since the election.

He declined to comment on the content of his conversation with Wolf. He said other local lawmakers - most of whom are Republicans - offered "a significantly different response" than Schreiber.

The recovery plan: Meckley said he is acting to enforce the board-approved recovery plan, which set both academic and financial goals for the district - none of which, Meckley argues, have been met since the district implemented an internal transformation plan last year.

District schools have not shown significant growth on standardized tests and have worsened in some cases.Also, the recovery plan calls for major wage and benefit concessions from teachers, administrators and support staff.

Despite more than a year of negotiations, the district and teachers union have not agreed on a new labor contract.

Members of the union voted overwhelmingly last week to reject a fact-finder's report produced by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, which could serve as a framework for settling disagreements over crucial contract elements.

The president of the union, Bruce Riek, could not be reached for comment Monday.