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Breaking:

A special committee of the state Department of Education tasked with considering Washington Township's petition to leave the Dover Area School District and join Northern York unanimously recommended against the move.

The state Board of Education will make the final decision Thursday.

Check back for more details.

Reported earlier:

A hearing to consider Washington Township's application to transfer from Dover Area School District began Wednesday morning in York County Court of Common Pleas, weighing the pros and cons of the secession to Northern York County School District.

The hearing room was crowded with representatives from the Washington Township Education Coalition, both school districts, and parents and community members on both sides of the debate.

The parties, who will have an opportunity to provide testimony, composed a list of issues that were reviewed during evidentiary proceedings Wednesday.

Northern York County School District remained neutral in the discussion.

The process: A special committee of the State Board of Education was established to consider Washington Township's 2012 petition to leave the district, citing Dover's 2011 closure of Kralltown Elementary School and better educational opportunities as key reasons.

The Court of Common Pleas was tasked with evaluating the application, the geography of the township and whether the majority of taxpayers support the transfer.

The secretary of education in August agreed that the transfer would be meritorious from a educational standpoint, but "the state board is not bound by the secretary's decision," said Jonathan Peri, chairman of the special committee.

During the hearing, which is expected to conclude Thursday, the committee will consider issues including geography, transportation, facilities, staff and overall impact on both districts.

The committee is then expected to offer a recommendation to the State Board of Education, but a final decision isn't expected for a couple months.

Reasoning: "Essentially, this is about educational performance," said Daniel Fennick, the attorney representing Washington Township. "In every area where we can measure academic performance, (tests), graduation rate, truancy, Northern York far exceeds Dover."

Fennick cited an average 140-point difference in SAT scores between the two districts.

But Ben Pratt of CGA Law Firm, who is representing Dover school district, said any educational differences are not that far apart.

"Testing is only one piece of the academic puzzle," he said, noting that Dover's academic growth is moving at a faster rate than Northern York's. "Before the closing of Kralltown, there were no petitions or applications to leave, and no one was disappointed in the quality of academics."

The township's relationship with the community was also examined.

"Residents of Washington Township are associated with everything that happens in the Northern York community, from football clubs to dance classes and really any other sporting or social events," Fennick said. "They wouldn't have any association with Dover if the kids did not attend school there."

On the other side, the students in the school system in Dover should be enough to cement their place in the district, Pratt said.

"These students are going to be removed from the schools they have attended for years," he said. "They have made friends with students ... and built relationships with teachers and coaches, ones that will not easily be replaced."

Fennick said taxes were not a driving factor in the transfer, though lower taxes and "better education" would be benefits.

But Pratt said the proceedings were not being held for those issues.

"You can't just say, 'I don't like paying taxes in one district, so I will find one that is better,'" he said.

Impact: Because of anticipated population growth in the area, "Dover is about to have a major facility problem. They're already overcrowded," Fennick said.

"Removing 300 students would be a benefit to Dover," ultimately saving them the cost of more buses, teachers and additional facilities in the immediate future, he said.

But Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, sent a letter to Peri, opposing the secession.

"Students will be forced to leave their teachers, current classes and extracurricular activities," he wrote in a news release. "Taxpayers and students who remain in the district will also be adversely affected due to financial impact on Dover Area School District."

Grove wrote that Dover will lose $1.7 million in revenue if Washington Township leaves the district.

"To close the budget deficit, the district will either be forced to raise taxes, furlough staff or a combination of the three," he wrote.

— Reach Jessica Schladebeck at jschladebeck@yorkdispatch.com

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