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Committee downs Washington Twp. transfer to Northern York schools
After more than three years of reviews, court hearings and public sessions, the Washington Township Education Coalition's petition to transfer from Dover Area schools to Northern York School District will likely be a fruitless effort.
A state Board of Education-appointed special committee on Wednesday announced members unanimously recommended against the transfer.
The board will have final say in the matter and is expected to make a decision Thursday whether to follow the committee's recommendation to disapprove of the application for the creation of the Washington County Independent School District and its transfer.
Reading from the committee's 17-page report, Chairman Jonathan Peri said the decision was based upon four factors the committee deemed most relevant: comparing educational programs, financial impact on Dover schools, property taxes and the closing of Kralltown Elementary, and Northern York's capacity to accommodate Washington Township students.
Educational differences: Drawing from a previous disposition of a school district transfer request from Woodward Township, the committee deemed that "where educational programs are in general parity ... the committee believes that transfer of an independent school district should be disfavored ... absent other compelling or unusual reasons for transfer," according to the report.
Considering standardized test scores, curriculum and opportunities, the committee did not observe a superiority of one district's educational program over the other for the majority of students, Peri said.
Joe Sieber, president of the coalition, used a public comment portion of Wednesday's meeting to express disappointment with this part of the committee's report, arguing they placed too much weight on School Performance Profile (SPP) scores.
"If you look at the vast data we prepared — it's your data — Northern (York) shows significantly higher results on a consistent basis," Sieber said to the committee. "You're saying that doesn't matter."
Based on the most recent SPP results for schools potentially affected by the transfer, Dover performs slightly better than Northern York at the high school level, worse at the middle school level and on par at the elementary school level, according to the report.
Property taxes: The coalition members disagreed with the committee's assertion that property taxes were the main reason for their request to transfer districts.
Drawing on a previous board decision to deny Porter Township's transfer request in 2013, the report states that the board "disfavors petitions that it believes are motivated largely by lower property taxes in the transferee district."
While the township "asserts that taxes are not a major motivating factor behind this petition ... the forms circulated by the (coalition) to solicit signatures for this petition emphasized Northern York's lower taxes at least as much as any educational factors," the report notes.
Sieber and others in attendance in favor of the transfer said they'd gladly pay more taxes to move their children into a better school district. None wanted to speak on the record following the meeting, pending the board's final decision.
Positive reaction: Holly Feeser, a Washington Township mother of three, thanked the committee for its time and effort in "securing our children's future" before rejoicing with her fellow Keep Us In Dover Schools (KIDS) association members.
"This was everything, remaining in out home district, staying with the same teachers, same activities and not disrupting our family as well as those of 300 other students to go to a school with very similar academics," said Feeser, who wasn't sure the committee would side with her group. "It was common sense to stay where we're at."
Rep. Seth Grove (R-Dover) said the decision to deny the transfer request made sense, as the loss of revenue and taxes could've resulted in a $1.8 million tax increase for Dover residents and potential job losses for Dover teachers.
The committee acknowledged these potential negative impacts, according to the report, with considerations suggested by Washington Township to address the revenue losses as too speculative.
History and future of request: The coalition's application process began when it filed a petition on July 17, 2012 with the York County Court of Common Pleas that bore the signatures of nearly 73 percent of the township's taxable citizens. The decision to file the petition came soon after the 2011 closing of Kralltown Elementary — the only Dover school within Washington Township — which representatives of the township have previously called "the tipping point" and the report notes "appears to be a strong motivating factor behind this transfer petition."
The closing of a school's negative effects are temporary, Peri said, while a transfer to another school district is practically permanent.
Northern York remained neutral throughout the process, as revenue gained from Washington Township would exceed costs of increased enrollment, but it did request that the transfer take effect on July 1, 2017 instead of the originally requested July 1, 2015 to allow the schools "sufficient time to prepare, renovate and expand existing facilities," according to the report.
If the board votes to approve the transfer request, it will direct the Council of Basic Education to make necessary changes in the county plan. If it disapproves, it must state its reasons and the independent district will be provided a hearing if requested.
—Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org.