Lincoln Charter makes its case ahead of expansion vote

Lincoln Charter School Principal Dr. Leonard Hart speaks during Donuts for Dads at Lincoln Charter School in York City, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Lincoln Charter's principal and CEO said York City School District officials smeared his school this past week in an attempt to undermine it ahead of a vote Wednesday about its expansion.

Lincoln Charter would be allowed to operate another five years and add middle school to its existing K-5 model if the York City school board approves the charter's operational plan. York City's administration has come out against Lincoln Charter's proposed middle school expansion.

On July 13, two board members publicly denounced the charter school for not paying its bills and failing to submit certain documents ahead of the scheduled vote on Wednesday.

"I anticipated some pushback, but not to that magnitude," said Lincoln Principal Leonard Hart.

More:York City school board members pan proposed Lincoln Charter expansion

The bills issue was cleared up at the meeting — Lincoln reimburses quarterly — but the other point, that the middle school education plan was unclear and “lacking in the actual curricular documents” puzzled Hart, he said.

The district's attorney, Allison Petersen, said that a complete curriculum for those grades would have been required for a new charter, but there are no such requirements for charter amendments — which is what Lincoln submitted.

She did, however, say it would be a reasonable expectation to have a full curriculum for consideration ahead of such a vote.

Hart's amendment did include a planned curriculum structure for grades K-8, he said, and if that was not sufficient for administrators to consider, they failed to mention it when they reached out to Lincoln for additional clarifications in December and April.

When asked about this, a district spokesperson referred The York Dispatch to its July presentation, which included officials asking for more details. 

York City administrators have recommended the board grant the renewal but not the expansion.

But Hart said the district's assessment of its academic history this past week was also misleading.

While he acknowledged Lincoln did not meet goals for proficiency percentage increases set by the district at its last renewal, the baseline for the growth was 2014-15, in which the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment was made more rigorous.

More:Middle-schoolers across Pa. struggle with new exam standards

Districts statewide saw plummeting scores after the change.

The Lincoln Parent Advisory Committee and the Lincoln Latino Parent Advisory Committee hold a joint rally for the parents and supporters of Lincoln Charter School, focused on the renewal, expansion and growth of Lincoln Charter School.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

"Everybody’s trying to play catch up in that," Hart said, noting the school's performance profile score dropped about 20 percentage points in one year.

And a lot of districts have had scores that were inconsistent in the years following, he said, adding "everybody is trending all over the place, not just Lincoln." 

On the other hand, Lincoln outperformed York City across the board in math, English language arts and science on last year's PSSA's, according to state data.

More:Several York County districts consistently fall short on test scores

An average of 28% of Lincoln's students scored proficient or advanced compared to York City's 21%. Both York City and Lincoln exceeded state standards for year-to-year student growth.

Much of the board's commentary on Lincoln's renewal, however, centered around its proposed enrollment cap. 

Board member Margie Orr said Lincoln wants to "pull the majority of those students from this district" by asking for an enrollment cap of 785 district students and 875 total.

York City School Board President Margie Orr speaks during a Celebration of Life service held in honor of civic leader Raymond "Ray" Crenshaw  at Bishop Small Memorial AME Zion Church in York City, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As of May, Lincoln had 636 students total, with 563 from York City.

Relinquishing 100 or more students would exacerbate the district's already strapped finances. York City had to reduce expenses by more than $6 million in its 2020-21 budget.

More:'Wouldn’t wish on anybody': York City school board makes deep cuts

Hart, however, said the 785 would not be an increase, as that has been the cap in the school's charter agreement since the beginning. 

Per charter law, authorizing districts such as York City can only control caps for their own students, so the district's original charter agreement notes a cap of 785 district students — which Lincoln proposes to keep.

Though the school could enroll up to that number, students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis from any school district, Hart said.

The 875 was included only to inform the school's budget projections for the following years and would not be part of the renewal agreement.

Hart said he hopes the district will reconsider its stance on the middle school and work together with Lincoln to support the city's children.

"Lincoln is not a good fit for everyone. The district is not a good fit for everyone. COVID has shown us that cyber learning is not a good fit for everyone," he said.