York City recovery officer: Charters not being considered

Alyssa Jackson
  • Margie Orr, school board president, said charter schools still an option at board meeting
  • Carol Saylor agreed, but said charter schools not being explored at this time
  • "We need to work together to improve the academic performance of our students." -Michael Miller

The York City School District's state-appointed chief recovery officer said she is not revisiting a plan to convert all of the district's schools to charters. Instead, Carol Saylor said she will be sticking to the original recovery plan that was approved in late March.

Act 141 of 2014 allows the chief recovery officer to call for a conversion to charter schools if it is financially viable or if it's believed academic improvement will follow. The previous chief recovery officer had recommended that all schools in the district become charter schools — a proposal that was unpopular locally and ultimately dropped when Gov. Tom Wolf took office.

During last week's York City school board meeting, however, President Margie Orr told the audience the option is "not completely off the table."

Saylor agreed that the wording of Act 141 allowed for this to occur, but she stressed that she wasn't looking into it.

Last week: Orr's comments were response to several teachers who banded together to wear all black both to their respective schools during the workday and then to the board meeting Wednesday night. York City Education Association President Ira Schneider said the teachers dressed alike as a  "sign of solidarity" as they attempted to raise awareness about educators' inability to control disruptive students.

Superintendent Eric Holmes acknowledged the problem and linked to the district's antiquated disciplinary model. Solutions to the behavioral problems were suggested, but the board often cited a lack of funds to implement any of these changes.

Orr's fellow board members maintain her comments were not a reflection of how the board as a whole feels. Instead, many said they believe she was simply mentioning that the wording of Act 141 — which established the state's recovery process for financially distressed school districts — allows for a full charter conversion if financial stability is not achieved.

"She was saying because of the recent political climate, charter schools are not completely off the board, not that it was being considered," said York City school board member Michael Breeland.

Finances: At the core of the York City district's troubles is financial instability, according to school board Vice President Michael Miller. He also said Orr has been the strongest opponent on the board to a switch to all charter schools.

"My understanding of what she was saying was that the state could still do that," Miller said. "I don't think she wanted to do that. The state has the right under Act 141, if we do not get out of financial recovery within a certain period of time, that they can call for the school board to be replaced."

On March 30, a recovery plan was passed for the school district. The plan was authored by Saylor and focuses on academic performance as well as financial status.

"The financial situation has improved since the district was put into recovery three years ago," she said. "Do we have enough money to do everything in the plan? No. But the basic premise of the current recovery plan is to strengthen foundational things like academics."

The goal, Miller further explained, was to improve academic performance, which would then increase the number of parents choosing to send their students to the district schools rather than charters and would eventually improve the financial status. He felt that this was the core of what Orr meant when she said a full-charter conversion was still an option.

"What I understand that was being said was that we need to work together to improve the academic performance of our students," he said. "And if we don't work together, then 141 would allow them to bring in an education receiver who could have any or all of the school district become charter."