York City schools exit financial recovery status

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

York City School District made history Thursday as the first Pennsylvania school district to make it out of financial recovery, a program designed to help struggling school systems.

“The [exit] puts the cherry on top of the sundae that says, ‘We can’t hide that bearcat pride,’" York City School Superintendent Andrea Berry said Thursday.

A decade ago, York City and three other districts — Harrisburg, Chester-Upland and Duquesne — entered the state's financial recovery program. As part of it, York City received a recovery officer while the local school board remained in control.

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Over the years, York City dealt with obstacles, including the fear that charter schools would draw more of its students, erode the district's public funding or even take over the city's schools.

Michael Breeland, school board president, said his home schools would not become charter schools. 

“When you want to come in my city and tear my school district down, know Michael Breeland is going to be here, and I’m going to continue the fight," he said Thursday, decked out in Bearcat colors. 

Michael Breeland, Board President, speaking at the York City School District press conference to announce its exit from financial recovery status in York on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022.

The district cannot fail the city's children, he said, vowing to continue the fight even as the district exits the state program.

York City School District Recovery Officer Michael Thew said the state will monitor the district for another five years. But the district will now turn its focus on the students and their proficiency in subjects such as reading and math and getting them ready for college and career. 

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Thew explained York City went into recovery because of a law that created financial requirements all school districts had to meet. The law was revised in 2017 with goals in academics, financials and structure. 

A few years ago, the district asked to exit recovery, but it was rejected. Thew said the Pennsylvania Department of Education asked the district to show it had a balanced budget without touching its reserves — which the district did for four years.  

The state also wanted the district to show enough academic growth and progress before removing it from the program, Thew said.

The progress toward the goals, which are standard pieces such as attendance and graduation, was monitored through data such as the PSSA and Keystones.  Now, Thew said, York City has had four years of strong academic and financial growth. 

Dr. Andrea Berry, Superintendent of Schools, on left, hugging Dr. Danielle Miles, Project Director of Schools, on right, Dr. LeTrecia Gloster, Assistant Superintendent, and Dr. Jaimie Foster, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, at the York City School District press conference to announce its exit from financial recovery status in York on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022.

“COVID was not a friend, of course,” he said, explaining that the pandemic impacted academic performance. 

Thew said the district is still moving forward with revamped curriculums and teachers stepping up. 

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Berry said her first budget as a superintendent four years ago was daunting. 

“So just four years ago, when I did my first budget, I was cutting $30-something million out of the budget,” she said.

That kind of cutting isn't necessary now, Berry said, meaning the district can "loosen the tie a little."

Dr. Andrea Berry, Superintendent of Schools, speaking at the York City School District press conference to announce its exit from financial recovery status in York on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022.

Berry said the district will continue to guard its funds, hiring when they see the need because federal emergency relief funds are expected to end soon. The district has to ensure it can sustain itself at the same level of support and service when the funds are gone, she said. 

But now Berry gets to look forward to balancing the budget again. She said they will “enjoy the fruits of some of our labor.”

The next step, according to Berry, will be growing the district's reserve funds to help cover any sudden expenses. It is currently close to its goal of having its fund balance equal 15% of the operating budget.

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.