York City district aims to recover 75 students with 'aggressive outreach' campaign

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

York City school administration is calling on board members to launch an aggressive outreach campaign to win back students from cyber, vocational and technical schools and to restore district resources.

The goal is to recover 75 high school students by the end of next year, which would reduce about $1.2 million total in per-student spending to alternative education.

“Everything we do from here on out has to be to promote William Penn and to lift up William Penn so we can bring those students back,” said Superintendent Eric Holmes at the district's May 20 board meeting.

In the district's proposed 2019-20 budget, expenditures of about $156.4 million minus about $150 million in revenue would leave a deficit of about $6.38 million to be covered with the district's fund balance.

York City School District superintendent Eric Holmes speaks during a school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 12. It was proposed at the meeting that all William Penn home football games be held at noon on Saturdays for the remaining of the 2016 football season. The recommendation was made after a shooting in the Small Field parking lot on Friday, Sept. 9, left two men hospitalized.

Charter school payments alone would cost the district about $25.1 million next year — a $1.1 million increase over this year. That's 16% of the district's overall budget.

Funding students in-house is far less expensive than fees to send district students to other schools, said board President Margie Orr.

"That's our biggest expense," she said.

The initial plan is for strong outreach this summer and next year — going door-to-door, identifying students who are attending other schools and talking up the district to make people aware of the changes, Holmes said.

An additional advertising campaign might be considered down the line, he added.

Board member Lisa Kennedy said reaching out to alumni would help form a consistent message to the community because "we're all in this together," she said.

'We have to be our own advocates," Holmes said. "If we don't, no one will."

But state-imposed financial recovery has also taken its toll, with required spending each year to maintain the many programs and adjustments necessary to implement the district's recovery plan, which it has been on for the last four years.

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

Most of the 23 plan initiatives in progress would be flat-funded next year — meaning no increases to spending — but an additional $1.2 million would be required to expand the high school public safety academy and science, technology, engineering, art and math academy.

More:State places York City schools in financial recovery

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The cost impact would be felt in full with no tax increase for the sixth consecutive year — leaving the average monthly taxpayer bill at about $179, based on current 33.7361 millage and the city's recently estimated median assessed home value of $63,700, according to the Realtors Association of York & Adams Counties.

“I think it’s important as part of our recovery that we become, or continue to be, a good partner for the city because the recovery of the city is an important part of our recovery," said business manager Richard Snodgrass.

The district board is scheduled to vote June 19 on the final 2019-20 budget. 

Eliminating fees for 75 out-of-district students would recover next year's additional spending and conserve the district fund balance, which is dwindling quickly.

This year's beginning fund balance total of about $15.9 million would be reduced to about $11.9 million at the end of 2019 and to about $5.56 million at the end of 2020, according to budget projections.

The district submitted its petition to the state in October to be removed from recovery status this summer and is awaiting a decision, but even if an exit is granted, officials would still have to continue with the plan under monitoring for five years.

That's why the high school push is so important, Holmes said. The district has been losing students after eighth grade. It also did not get as many students returning following the Helen Thackston Charter School closure as previously anticipated.

More:York City schools prepare for influx of Thackston students

"There is no financial stability for this district if we don’t make ourselves the choice of parents and students in this community," Snodgrass said. "We will be drained by the other options that they have.”

“I agree totally with York High needing to be relevant and competitive," said board member Diane Glover Brown.

More:York City schools to certify teens for public safety jobs in intensive 3-year program

The district now has a track record of academic progress, with two years of student growth on state assessments and implementation of three out of five planned career academies, Holmes said.

York High students Rayven Dickson, left, and Joseph Comstock demonstrate how Narcan, a brand of naloxone, would be administered during York City Public Safety Academy at York High School in York City, Thursday, March 21, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Financially, the district has come a long way since its original recovery plan in 2012. Debt fell from $126 million to $75 million, Snodgrass said, and the fund balance went from a $4 million deficit to a positive balance of about $11.9 million by end of 2019.

“That’s a $16 million dollar swing,” he said.

"In my opinion, I think that our schools are the safest," said board member Tonya Thompson-Morgan, who suggested marketing safety improvements such as the school's police department to combat a historical negative perception among parents.