York City school officials question legislation aimed at financially distressed districts

Some York City school officials have questioned legislation that would pave the way for a state takeover of financially distressed districts.

The legislation, which includes the program proposed by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, would allow the state to declare some financially-distressed school districts, including York City, in financial recovery. York City would be included because it requested an advance on state funding.

Districts in financial recovery would have a chief recovery officer appointed by the state to implement a recovery plan, which could include renegotiating contracts or converting schools to charter schools, says a release from Piccola’s office.  Districts would be eligible for interest-free loans.

But if that doesn’t work out for various reasons, the state could petition the court to appoint a receiver to handle finances.

Margie Orr

Margie Orr, the York City School Board president, said she wants Piccola to tell her exactly what he thinks the state can do.

“When it comes to finances, what more would they have us do?” she said last week.

She pointed out that Harrisburg School District was subject to a state takeover years ago, and “Harrisburg is right back in the same boat.”

She doesn’t know what a financial recovery officer could do without extra funding, she said.

Supt. Deborah Wortham said that shortly after she arrived in York City, she asked the state to provide a consultant on financial matters. The consultant has been working with the district all year, she said, including when the district realized it was facing an $8 million shortfall for 2011-12.

The district sold off its delinquent tax claims to bring in some cash, and the recommendation was made that the district request an advance of its state subsidy because of the deficit, Wortham said.

Then, she said, she finds out that based on that advance, the district would be identified as financially distressed.

“My recommendation would be to continue the partnership,” she said, emphasizing that the district has already had input from the state all year.

The Associated Press had a story last week about state lawmakers pushing on several education-related bills. Here’s what it said about the financial recovery bill:

“Meanwhile, lawmakers did not mention another bill the governor supports to pave the way for state takeovers of Pennsylvania school districts veering toward financial collapse. The Senate Education Committee approved it last month, but it faces changes after Democrats attacked it as a backdoor move to bust teachers’ unions and hand schools to private operators in districts already hamstrung by cutbacks in state aid and threadbare local tax bases.”

About Angie Mason

I'm the education reporter at the York Daily Record. Follow me on Twitter: @angiemason1
This entry was posted in Angie Mason, Budgets and finances, Statewide issues, York City School District. Bookmark the permalink.

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