State places York City schools in financial recovery

Andrew Shaw
The York Dispatch

Editor's note: This article was originally published Dec. 12, 2012.

The York City School District has been placed on "moderate" financial recovery status that places it firmly under the supervision of the state.

Department of Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis said Wednesday afternoon the district will now be subject to a state-guided plan involving a financial recovery officer, David Meckley.

York City schools had been trying to fight the financial recovery status, as it gives the state power to make recommendations on what should happen with the district budget, recommendations that the board must approve or face the threat of a receiver who won't need to ask for permission.

The plan would be created in a partnership with district officials and would need board approval, but ultimately the state is in control.York City schools are in moderate status; severe status would mean the district would skip straight to having a receiver and wouldn't have the same input.

State lawmakers, including Senate Education Committee chairman Jeffrey Piccola, said districts such as York City have had financial problems for too long and not shown results for all of the state funding they've received.

The reasons: York City School District was placed in the "moderate financial recovery status" because it had to get an advance on its state funding and because it has more than 7,500 students.

In recent years, the district had to lay off dozens of teachers, freeze staff and administrator pay and raise taxes significantly, and it needed a late influx of grant funding to help avoid cutting kindergarten and other programs.

A law signed over the summer allowed the state to declare York City, Harrisburg, Chester-Upland and Duquesne school districts financially distressed and intervene in their budgets.

York City School Board President Margie Orr said at this point, she'll just "wait and see what happens" with Meckley.

"I would accept any further help that the state would give us. More money would be a tremendous help," Orr said, echoing her earlier sentiments that funding, not a new plan, are needed most.

"If it's going to make us better financially, why wouldn't we?"

The process: Once the board approves the plan, which will take months to craft, the district is bound by law to follow it. 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.

The recovery officer, Meckley, would ensure the board is following the plan.

If the board rejects Meckley's plan, the two sides would have up to one year to develop a plan that works for everyone.

If no agreement is reached, the state would petition the Court of Common Pleas to appoint a receiver for the district, and if the court agrees, York City School District would have no choice but to follow the state's plan.