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EDITORIAL: City schools trapped in spiral

The Dispatch Editorial Board
York City school board members Arleta Riviera (left) and Cassandra Liggins (middle), along with Superintendent Andrea Berry, listen to school police Chief Michael Muldrow explain the Juvenile Violence Truancy Initiative, which was approved by the board Wednesday, Jan. 22.

York City School District is trapped in a death spiral.

It's stuck under years-long state management that limits how money can be spent. Charter schools are annually sucking more than $25 million from its budget. Miserly state lawmakers foist the responsibility for funding public education on local officials, thereby fostering a system that rewards students in rich communities and punishes those in poor ones. And York City taxpayers are fed up with paying taxes that are up to double what's paid in richer districts with more valuable property. 

It's no wonder that, under these conditions, York City Superintendent Andrea Berry presented a slash-and-burn budget for the 2020-21 school year containing $6.2 million in cuts. And, sadly, it's no surprise the district's school board went even further, last week approving a budget that axed 44 positions, including 32 teachers.

And, even so, York City's 2020-21 budget still boosted taxes. That's how bad things really are.

Really, what choice did district officials have?

York City school officials are trapped in a budgetary spiral that's plagued poor, largely minority communities throughout the U.S. for decades. Under-represented at the statehouse, their calls for funding reform fall flat. 

Like anything stuck in a trap, eventually the grisly choice of gnawing off one's leg is the last, best available option.  

Easily available metrics, such as test scores, drive the moneyed classes from the city, exacerbating blight and crashing property values.

The poverty increases the demand for not-for-profits, which, in turn, remove more property from the tax rolls.

And, all the while, Republicans in the state Legislature tout the myth of "school choice," a particularly insidious bit of libertarian conservative dogma — concocted in response to the integration of Southern schools — that conspires to privatize the American school system and funnel taxpayer dollars to religious institutions.

The results will be devastating for York City's students and society at large.

Interested in the performing arts? Too bad.

Hoping to grow from an introduction in the humanities? Those options are even more limited now. 

Assistant Superintendent Andrea Berry speaks at the Wednesday, April 17 school board meeting after being appointed 2019-20 superintendent of York City School District. (Photo by: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Programs such as these are, in a very real sense, the foundation of a well-rounded education, one that prepares students to take their place as active citizens in a representative republic. But, more often than not, society has decided that the liberal arts aren't for poor kids. 

Make no mistake, York City's plight is one destroying urban districts throughout the country. Just ask Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who, in 2016, wrote a blistering ruling that attacked the very foundation of the system under which public schools are funded in this country.

His 90-page ruling was an indictment of the disparity between rich districts and poor ones that the U.S. funding model breeds.

"So change must come. The state has to accept that the schools are its blessing and its burden, and if it cannot be wise, it must at least be sensible," Moukawsher wrote.

And yet, with the inherent systemic flaws well-established, school districts such as York City remain trapped and must eat itself just to survive.

Officials there had little choice this past week.

But the fact that they were left without any other options is neither moral nor just.