Loss to Dover schools millions more than anticipated with Washington Twp. move

Dover Area could face even steeper cuts than anticipated if Washington Township abandons the school district.

The district is now projected to lose $4.3 million in annual revenue should Washington Township leave, said school board President Nathan Eifert. That's up from a $4.1 million loss projected in 2018 during a court battle with the group spearheading the effort to move township students to Northern York County School District. 

“If the transfer were to occur, the district would have to make some very tough decisions, including program cuts and furloughs for all classifications of employees,” Eifert said when reached by email.

Dover Area's school board is appealing the recent state court ruling allowing the move.

The losses would come on top of new expenses and revenue losses caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, Eifert said.

Dover Area's total spending was about $65 million in 2019-20, according to the district's budget.

Dover Area School Board President Nathan Eifert shows a stack of petitions in favor of a vote to approve an appeal of the Commonwealth Court's decision to allow Washington Township to transfer school districts, during a meeting at Dover Elementary School Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

The township's move to Northern York would involve about 250 students from 160 families, Eifert said.

Dover Area parents came out in strong support for the appeal at a June board meeting, arguing that the toll would be far worse on students who would be uprooted from classes and friends.

More:Dover Area school board to ask Pa. Supreme Court to keep Washington Twp. in district

About 75 high school students would be transferred in 2021-22, the year of the switch under the state court ruling.

Trisa Warren, a first grade teacher at Dover Area's North Salem Elementary, stands outside of the Dover Elementary School gym before a school board meeting held there on June 16, 2020. Warren is opposed to Washington Township leaving the school district.

A petition signed in 2012 in support of the move had about 1,400 signatures, but parents at the June 16 meeting said many of the signees were not the parents in the district today.

Washington Township Supervisor Ralph McGregor — who is also president of the Washington Township Education Coalition, which submitted the 2012 petition — said the group's motives have been distorted by opponents over the years.

It was never just about lowering tax rates for township property owners, he said. A better education was the crux of the issue.

“That was completely false from day one,” he said. “It could not have been done for lower taxes,” he said, because there was no way of knowing what taxes would be in the future.

The original debate was centered around the loss of the township’s “community school,” which was built for the township when it transferred to Dover with the consolidation of schools in the 1960s, McGregor said.

More:State board again says Washington Twp. must stay in Dover schools

More:Court: Washington Twp. can ditch Dover Area district

Prior to that, the northern part of the township had been part of Northern, he said.

The Washington Township Office building in Washington Township, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Kralltown Elementary closed in 2011, and the coalition argued that closure made the commute to Dover's schools for the township's northerners much worse.

The shuttered school was put up for sale by the district and is under contract with buyers Kimberly and Tom Kretzmer, who plan to live there with their seven children, who have advanced medical needs.

More:Family creates home out of Kralltown Elementary School

Dover Area School District is looking to sell the former Kralltown Elementary School.
Tuesday, December 3, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

The appeal of the transfer will go to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to consider within six to eight months of the filing whether to hear the case, said district solicitor Benjamin Pratt at the June meeting.

But there is more likelihood of a hearing since the court also recently received appeals in a similar case, he said.

According to reporting by the Middletown Press & Journal weekly newspaper, Highspire residents are looking to transfer students from Steelton-Highspire to Middletown school districts in Dauphin County.

The 276 students who would be transferred are from families who make up 34% of Steelton-Highspire's tax base, the journal reported in April.

Both the Dover-Northern and Middletown-Highspire cases have coalitions that deem the move would be done for educational purposes, and the latter's coalition has almost as long a history, beginning in 2014.

As in Dover's case, the Commonwealth Court favored the transfer based on the fact that the financial impact on Steelton-Highspire should have no bearing on the case, the journal reports.

“There shouldn’t be anything emotional about this,” McGregor said, noting Washington Township met the requirements for transfer according to the courts, and how Dover will be affected has nothing to do with that.

Northern issued a statement on June 22, acknowledging it would need to reassess now-outdated information:

"While the Northern York County School District has remained neutral in our opinion on this matter, new analysis and discussions will be ongoing with the School Board and Administration to determine the appropriate course of action moving forward."

Correction: The story has been corrected to accurately reflect the Dover district's total spending and the district's early loss projections.