State cites reasons for rejecting Washington Township district switch

Junior Gonzalez
  • State Board of Education Chairman Larry Wittig suggested members were impacted by concerns of district impact.
  • The board decided in March 14-4 to reject a transfer of Washington Township to Northern York.
  • A new hearing will be scheduled at a later date.

The state Board of Education noted in a letter last Thursday its reasons for rejecting a plan to allow Washington Township to join the Northern York School District, setting up a public hearing about the decision.

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The letter was signed by state Board of Education Chairman Larry Wittig and addressed to Daniel Fennick, the attorney for the petitioners requesting a move from Dover to Northern York.

In the letter, Wittig stated board members were convinced of several of the arguments made by advocates to keep Washington Township as part of the Dover Area School District.

Reasons for the 14-4 denial include the likelihood of significant disruption in district facilities at Northern York and the loss of tax revenues in Dover if such a move were approved.

Regarding facilities, Wittig stated Northern York’s district capacity is 92 percent full, while Dover is at  about 75 percent capacity.

Wittig also pushed back on the notion that Washington Township students would receive a better education if they moved to Northern York. He stated the commentary and application that state board members heard and received at the special meeting  March 9 showed a “comprehensive and laudable” curriculum at Dover.

The state board’s final reason was the potential negative impact to the community under a district shakeup. Wittig stated members concluded that district programs and services had “become part of the identity” of both Dover and Northern York students.

Pushback: Fennick, who represents the Washington Township Independent School District, alleged the board based its arguments on public comment instead of  the more-binding documents and testimony.

“They heard the comment, and they had a discussion right after,” Fennick said about the March 9 meeting, at which members of the parent group Keep Our Kids in Dover Schools made several comments.

The board’s rationale regarding district impacts fell flat with Fennick. He said both districts would be impacted and the expectation of changes should not be the basis for not going forward with such a request.

While Dover would lose students under a transfer, Fennick said it would also cut its expenditures.

One topic Fennick said the board ignored was the “population crisis” at Dover because of an explosion of development in the area. He said the transfer of students from Washington Township could aid that issue.

Fennick ultimately disagreed with the way in which the board first observed the case.

In 2015, when the board first got involved in the process, Fennick said the Board of Education sent several committee members to review the case. After a day and a half, those members recommended to the entire board that it deny the request, which it did.

Fennick said the board did not have adequate information to render a fair and careful decision.

“How do you have the entire board vote (from a recommendation) on exhibits where there were thousands of pages of exhibits?” Fennick asked.

Long process: The hearing in March, which lasted several hours, was the second board vote that rejected a proposal to have Washington Township annexed by the Northern York School District. The move would affect about 180 Washington Township students who attend the Dover Area School District.

The effort to move Washington Township students  has been in motion since July 2012, when a group known as the Washington Township Education Coalition filed a petition with the York County Court of Common Pleas to transfer the township's students from Dover to Northern York.

The area was made into an independent school district to prepare a transfer.

The state Board of Education denied a request from pro-leave petitioners in September 2015 and reaffirmed its decision again that November.

After an appeal, Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson ruled in January that the state board acted in a manner in which its scope in reviewing the case was too broad. In his opinion, Brobson stated the board cited “no standards governing its review” in either of the prior two decisions.

Bronson ruled that the board would reconsider its final vote in a scheduled meeting, and in March, the board once again ruled against the the transfer by the Washington Township Independent School District.

Fennick said the board should hear more of the merits than comments in the next hearing.

“People cannot decide that X is better than Y if they haven’t tried (both) X and Y,” he said.

With the letter’s delivery, Wittig confirmed receipt of a request from Fennick for a hearing, which will be scheduled at a later date.

The state Board of Education did not return calls for comment.