DePasquale: State will audit York City schools

Sean Philip Cotter
Auditor General Eugene Depasquale (right) is joined by state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, as Depasquale prepares to announce an audit of the York City School District.

The state will take a long, hard look over the next few months at the York City School District's finances and performance, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced at a Monday news conference.

"The goal is not only to identify problems, but also to identify common-sense solutions," he said.

DePasquale was flanked by York City Mayor Kim Bracey, city schools spokeswoman Erin James and state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, as the auditor general made the announcement to a gaggle of media outside the district's administration building at 31 N. Pershing Ave. on the sunny Monday afternoon.

Five years: DePasquale said the audit will look back at the past five fiscal years, spanning from July 2010 until June 2015, taking into account the school's finances, the safety of the students and the district's general performance, among other areas.

"I am concerned about the graduation rate," he said. That will be one of the audit's main focuses: the fact that the city schools' rate languishes at 82.5 percent, below the state average of 85.5 percent, he said.

The auditor general's office is supposed to audit every school district in the state once every five years. The last audit for the city schools was released in March 2012, noting staff certification deficiencies, issues in documenting student data and the fact that the district spent more than $326,000 buying out the contract of one of its superintendents, according to DePasquale's office.

This audit is faster on the heels of its predecessor because of the troubles the district has faced over the past few years — it's in a riskier financial state than most, he said. He said this audit will check on how progress has been made in rectifying the issues that previous audit pointed out.

He said the audit can be best and most quickly completed with the cooperation of the district. James, the district spokeswoman, said the state would have it.

"We're looking forward to working with the auditor general's team," she said.

DePasquale, who lives in York County, served as state representative of the 95th District, which includes York City and some of the area immediately around it, for six years before being elected to his current statewide position in 2013. Before that, he spent several years as the city's director of economic development.

From Right to left, state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, ork City Mayor Kim Bracey, state Auditor General Eugene Depasquale and York City School District spokeswoman Erin James stand in from of the district's administration building on Monday as Depasquale announces a state audit of the city schools.

Turbulent: He said the past five years have been turbulent for the York City School District, with superintendents, officials and long-term plans coming and going.

"We know there's been a lot of issues in York City," he said.

After the most recent audit, the state deemed the district to be financially distressed, at which point the state appointed a chief recovery officer, local businessman David Meckley. Meckley, who was appointed by the administration of then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, eventually moved to convert the district into all charter schools, a locally unpopular plan that wound its way through the courts before closing in on finalization in December 2014. But then a month later, as York County Democrat Tom Wolf was sworn into the governor's office, Meckley resigned, and the plan to move to charters left with him.

Amended recovery plan shifts focus to York City district structure

Wolf appointed Carol Saylor, a former superintendent of school districts in Lancaster and Adams counties, as the chief recovery officer a few months after that, and over the next year she and other officials developed a new recovery plan for the district, with the school board approving it in March 2016. The plan looks to make reforms within the current structure rather than bring about the kind of paradigm shift for which Meckley advocated.

DePasquale's office will look into "how the decisions were made and and ultimately not made" regarding the former plan to convert the district into all charter schools, he said.

He said the current recovery plan will be one of the focuses of the audit. That said, he added, he believes the new plan to be moving the district in the right direction.

"Just as a York County taxpayer, I'm happy with how that's going," DePasquale said.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.