Education highlights from 2016
A lot has changed for local school districts since January. With the new year almost upon us, The York Dispatch took a look at the major education-related news of 2016.
Budget impasse: A historic nine-month state budget impasse began in 2015 and finally ended in March. That left local school districts without their state funding and threatened their inner workings. For example, Red Lion Area School District was forced to delay cyber and charter tuition payments in March because of a lack of funds, and the district was forced to delay technology and maintenance updates.
Come June 2016, when school districts were required to approve their budgets for the 2016-17 school year, local educators were wary of another impasse and unsure of how much state funding to plan for in the coming year. Ultimately, districts saw an increase in funding from the state and received Planning and Construction Workbook payments that were owed to them. PlanCon is a program that documents a school district's planning process for construction and establishes reimbursements for construction.
Fair funding formula: With the passing of the state budget came a new funding formula to figure out how much funding each school district in the state should get.
Before House Bill 1552 was signed into law in June, there was no effective formula for distributing state funding. The state had been operating on a "hold-harmless" policy, enacted in 1991, that gave districts 2 percent increases in funding each year but didn't take into account population changes. Essentially, this meant that districts that had a huge student population in 1991 but later saw a decrease in students were getting more funds than districts that had a small student population in 1991 but later experienced a large increase, such as several districts in York County.
The funding formula was used to calculate the 2016-17 state funding for school districts, which caused the increase many schools saw in funding. The new formula takes into account the total school population along with the English learner's population, special-education population and current tax efforts in each district.
Shawn Minnich: The former superintendent for Northeastern School District was charged in a domestic-violence incident in which he allegedly assaulted Christopher Leh, his estranged wife's boyfriend, after breaking into her home last December.
For months, Minnich kept his position as superintendent at the school district, where he was a direct supervisor over his estranged wife, Kathy Minnich, who works as a school social worker. Minnich remained superintendent until May, when his teaching licenses were suspended by the state, and the school board was forced to suspend him without pay in a tear-filled meeting.
The school board remained silent on Minnich's charges, refusing to talk to the public or media about the decision to allow Minnich to keep his position. In September, the school board voted to dismiss Minnich as the superintendent and formally instate Acting Superintendent Stacey Sidle without looking at outside hires.
In December, Leh addressed the school board, telling members they had acted shamefully throughout the process and announcing that he would run for a position on the board. Minnich awaits trial in March.
Exam and profile scores: York County's Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exam scores were released for the 2015-16 school year, and while students statewide saw an increase in proficiency, middle schoolers in the county struggled. The Pennsylvania Department of Education expected to see middle school scores decrease, believing it might have to do with the amount of time the students were exposed to the new Pennsylvania Common Core standards, which were imposed with the 2015 exams. Because of this, School Performance Profile scores among middle schools also showed a decrease, but high school scores increased.
SPP scores are given to each school in each district based on a variety of indicators, but they rely heavily on standardized testing. In December, the PDE announced a new measure called the Future Ready PA Index, which includes different calculations that don't rely as heavily on standardized testing. The measure might be approved in 2017.
Betsy DeVos: The 2016 presidential election impacted schools in a number of ways, including how teachers spoke with students during an uncivil election. Educators worried about students mimicking the candidates' behavior and took extra measures or avoided teaching about the election.
Upon President-elect Donald Trump's win, he announced his pick for education secretary: Betsy DeVos. DeVos is a strong supporter of school choice, and locally she's favored among many elected officials. However, public-school teachers and other educators are worried about what changes she might bring to public schools that are already struggling with the funding they have.
Racism at Tech: After Trump's victory, students in York County reported increased levels of harassment and racism.
Though the York NAACP stated several districts had experienced this, the most public example in York County happened at the York County School of Technology in the days after the election. A video surfaced of several students marching through the hallways with a Trump sign while one shouted "white power." Other reports of spitting, racial epithets and threats of violence were made public, but the school maintained these were unsubstantiated.
Crisis teams were sent to the school for two days following the posting of the video, protests outside the school were held and Gov. Tom Wolf addressed the situation, pledging resources. Representatives have said there have been no incidents since.