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York City schools ask for public opinion with tough decisions ahead

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

Deficit spending is unsustainable, according to York City School District budget projections, but the district's financial position probably won't improve much when lawmakers roll out the state's 2020 budget, officials said.

York City School District officials are eyeing budget-writing season and, with state budget numbers coming in soon, the administration is expecting some tough decisions later this year.

“The money's just not there," said Superintendent Andrea Berry of state funding, adding that though she does not expect unlimited funding, it is not even equitable, which makes it very difficult to run a district in financial recovery.

The district's 2019-20 budget projected a deficit of about $6.38 million to be covered with the district's fund balance.

Most of the 23 recovery plan initiatives in progress — instituted because the state marked the district for financial and academic improvements in 2012 — would see no increase in spending. But an additional $1.2 million would be needed to expand district academies, leaving about $5.56 million in the district's fund balance at the end of 2020, according to estimates.

Berry said in working with a shortfall, it's important to hear from as many stakeholders as possible to "frame our thinking" to build a recovery-based budget that is conscious and fiscally responsible.

That’s why the administration said they decided to engage city residents Monday, Jan. 6, in the first of six public meetings, to hear about the district's perceived strengths, weaknesses and priorities.

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“We have to be able to listen to the good, the bad and the ugly," Berry said. "That's how you get better. You don't get better based on what you do well. You get better based on what you're not doing well and trying to improve it."

York City's graduation rate is among the lowest in the state, according to the the state Department of Education. Its standardized test scores are the lowest in York County. 

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

The York City School District superintendent Dr. Andrea J. Berry recognizes 45 teachers as "Shining Star" teachers whose students exceeded academic growth expectations. This celebration is an opportunity to reinforce the districtÕs focus on academic growth as a measure of success in the classroom and the districtÕs commitment to high-quality instruction for all students. 
Monday, December 16, 2019 
John A. Pavoncello photo

About 25 residents and representatives from community organizations attended Monday night's event. The dates of other five roundtables have yet to be announced but will include one more community meeting and two each for parents and district staff.

Strengths listed by attendees Monday included good leadership; outside-the-box teaching; truancy and social service programs; and partnerships with local businesses and organizations such as Martin Library in York City.

"Our relationship has lasted 32 years," said Paula Gilbert, director of York County Libraries Children and Youth Services.

When it came to opportunities for growth, suggestions ranged from integrating e-sports and technology to more police involvement in the district.

More:PHOTOS: City school district honors 45 Shining Star teachers

Pastor Bill Kearney, president of the Black Ministers' Association of York County, said he meets with area police chiefs on a monthly basis, and they would like to see more opportunities in curriculum or networking to build relationships with students.

"There's a lack of diversity, and when I say lack of diversity, that's not only people of color but women," Kearney said of police departments. 

Class of 1945 graduate Warren Bulette touted the importance of more civics curriculum, and former board member James Sawor agreed.

"The demographic of our children who attend this school district are the biggest demographic who are underreported at the election booths," Sawor said, adding that minimum requirements are not enough and civics lessons should begin earlier.

Victoria Connor, CEO of the York County Bar Association, said it was important to engage alumni to be more active to leverage their success.

"Obviously the elephant in the room is increasing the number of students that walk across that stage and get the diploma on the other side," she said.