Northern York schools change transition plan after negotiations with Dover fail

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Northern High School in Dillsburg, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After failing to reach an agreement on a financial settlement with the Dover Area School District, the Northern York County School District has updated its transition plan for Washington Township families. 

The new plan mandates that most K-9 Washington Township students attend a Northern school starting next school year, according to a district letter issued Friday. Previously, the plan allowed most students to stay at their Dover school for up to three years, appeasing the concerns of many parents. 

Students entering grades 10-12 can apply to attend a Dover school until they graduate, with Northern paying their tuition, the letter said. Younger students with siblings in grades 10-12 can also apply to stay at Dover schools until their older sibling graduates. 

The announcement came after Dover released a statement criticizing Northern officials for proposing a financial settlement "far below" what they feel Dover is owed. The dispute will be heard by the York County Court of Common Pleas. 

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The Washington Township transition has been the subject of several court hearings over the last nine years. After the latest court ruling made in 2020, 218 Dover Area students residing in the township will transition to Northern York County School District on July 1. Dover stands to lose about $3.2 million from the move, while Northern expects to gain about $3.4 million. 

While Dover's statement criticized Northern's financial proposal as "uncompromising," Northern put the blame on Dover for going back on a promise made almost seven years ago. In the letter, Northern Superintendent Steven Kirkpatrick said in 2014 Dover officials told the Court of Common Pleas that there were "no debts or obligations of Dover which shall be assumed by Northern."

Now, he said Dover wants Northern to assume part of its debt, which his district does not agree with. Kirkpatrick has said several times that he hopes to ensure the transition does not place an additional burden on Northern York County taxpayers. 

Northern's new transition plan will likely upset several Washington Township families, as many parents previously expressed that they did not want to force their children to switch schools. That was the primary concern among parents at a community forum in March, and most of them supported the plan to allow students to stay enrolled in Dover schools for up to three years.

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Parent Holly Feeser has three students in Dover schools. Under Northern's new plan, her oldest two children will be able to graduate from their current school, but her youngest will have to transfer to a Northern school after she finishes ninth grade, when her older siblings have graduated.

Feeser said she feels that Northern officials only want the financial benefits that come with the transition but are unwilling to pay the tax obligations that come with it. This, she said, will have a negative impact on Washington Township families, many of which have multiple children. 

"We've been on the short end of the stick with 10 years of this stuff," Feeser said.