York City district will apply to end recovery status this summer

William Penn Senior High School, or York High, in York City, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York City School District has officially decided to apply to end its financial recovery status when its state-mandated plan ends next summer.

The district's chief recovery officer, Carol Saylor, announced at the board's Oct. 17 monthly action meeting that she is working on the justification — a written document laying out the reasons the district is ready to be released — to give to the state's education secretary when the plan is up in June.

More:York City schools: End of state oversight near?

She said she plans to share the full report with the board once completed.

Board President Margie Orr said both she and Superintendent Eric Holmes agreed with Saylor's assessment that the district is doing very well.

"We see no reason for the Department of Education to oversee us," she said.

District spokeswoman Erin James wrote in an email that the administration is working with Saylor to submit the application, and until that process is complete, they are declining to speak about it publicly. 

If termination is granted, the district will then go into a status called monitoring, Saylor said, meaning the plan remains in place for five years, with the chief recovery officer continuing to report to the secretary on the district's progress.

Carol Saylor, the chief recovery officer for the York City School District’, is shown in her office at the district administration building in York City, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

When asked what the difference would be compared to the current oversight, she said, "that’s a really good question," adding that there's very little in the law that speaks to monitoring.

Though the district will still be following the plan, removal from recovery status allows the district to have a public acknowledgment that it has made an improvement and is moving forward — "the ability to say, 'We came out,'" Saylor said.

Background: York City is one of four school districts under financial recovery status in the state.

More:State places York City schools in financial recovery

More:Harrisburg schools to remain in financial recovery; hope remains for York's exit

Both the Harrisburg and York City school districts are in moderate recovery status — meaning their school boards and administrations still make the decisions, but they must follow plans formed with the help of state-appointed recovery officers.

As the district pulls in financial data in advance of its plan's projected end date in June, Saylor said she believes there is evidence the district is ready for an exit, though academically, results are still lagging.

"Financially we’re fine," she said. "Academically, everybody would have loved to see us — including us — make massive gains."

The district is still awaiting this year's Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System scores, which track academic growth, but Saylor said she has seen positive results so far.

The students are "certainly making progress," she said, noting that a number of students who were testing at "below basic" are moving up to "basic." 

Time to progress: Mass Insight, the nonprofit education firm tracking the district's progress, suggested it could be years before a recovering district reaches optimal academic benchmarks.

If the state moves the district to monitoring status, it will give York City schools a chance to continue with the plan and make further progress.

Orr recognizes the district has a five-year window.

"We realize that, and we're comfortable with that," she said, adding that the district is doing very well financially, which was the biggest part of the recovery plan.

Additionally, grades and scores have gone up tremendously, she said, and all the pieces of the plan are in motion.

Saylor doesn't want to make predictions about the secretary's decision, but she feels confident there are good reasons why recovery status could, and should, be terminated.

Though Orr said she does not know what the state will decide, she knows the district has been committed to the recovery plan.

"We have followed it to the letter — all T's have been crossed, I's dotted," she said.