Saturday, March 14, 2015

York PA: Charters Blocked

You may recall that the last time we checked in, York PA was on a fast track to the suspension of democracy. But that train has been called back to the station.

York Schools were among the PA schools suffering sever financial distress (PA has operated with a school funding system that produces a lot of local financial hardship). The previous administration of Tom Corbett had used that as a trigger to install a district recovery office, and just a few months ago-- almost as if we were in a hurry to do a deal before the new governor took office-- a PA judged ruled that the district could go into receivership, a nifty system in which the democraticaly elected school board is stripped of power and the state-appointed receiver could do as he wished.

What David Meckley, the receiver, wanted to do was turn the whole district over to for-profit charter chain, Charter Schools USA. Lots of people thought that was an awful idea (among other problems, there was no reason to believe that CSUSA had a clue what to do with the district once they took it over). The judge who ruled in the case did so based on close reading of the law, declaring that even if the plan was clearly terrible, that wasn't his problem. That ruling was being appealed.

But now all of that has come to a screeching halt.

The full account is in Friday's York Daily Record. The short headline version is simple-- David Meckley has resigned as recovery officer. The longer version is encouraging for Pennsylvanians (like me) who weren't really sure which way new governor Tom Wolf's wind would be blowing-- Meckley resigned because the governor's office made it plain that charters were off the table.

There was apparently an intermediate stage, during which Meckley and locals and the state fiddled with a charter-public mix plan.

Meckley said in an interview that, around December, he, district administrators, the proposed charter board and some community leaders had crafted an alternative plan that involved a mix of district- and charter-run buildings. He said he had significant conversations with the Wolf administration about it, but "ultimately the position came down that charters are off the table."

And so, reading the writing on the wall, Meckley has resigned, and the search for a new receiver is on. The board president is wryly hopeful.

"My understanding is they wanted to put someone in that position who knows about the educational aspect of schools," she said. 

Meckley, even on his way out the door, continued to demonstrate that he was not that education-understanding guy by expressing his belief that a receivership was necessary because if the schools weren't going to be punished into excellence, they would never get there (I'm paraphrasing). 

Wolf has stated, via his proposed budget, his intention to get funding back up to a higher level in Pennsylvania. What the budget will actually look like once it gets past the GOP-controlled legislature is another question. But this move in York follows Wolf's replacement of the chairman of the board that runs Philly schools after the defrocked chair approved more charters in Philly in opposition to Wolf's stated desire to have no more Philly charters.   

Meanwhile, York has plenty of problems still to solve. The York Daily Record quotes Clovis Gallon, a teacher who was one of the leaders of the local charter opposition:

"Clearly we recognize the fact there's a lot of work to do with our students, with our community, with our school district," he said. "We're ready to accept that challenge. As a parent, as a teacher, I'm ready to accept the challenge."  

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