The Wolf administration is looking to reverse a state takeover of the York City School District. The district — one of four in Pennsylvania operating under a chief recovery officer — was $5 million in debt with all eight of its schools scoring well below the state benchmark of 70 on standardized tests. A judge late last year approved a plan to turn the city’s schools over to Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company based in Florida. The district had been operating under a recovery officer since 2012; he resigned March 13, citing the governor’s opposition to his recovery plan.
Gov. Tom Wolf said during his budget address that he wants “schools that teach” and that he was ready to fight for the resources they need to do so.
The situation in York gives him an earlier challenge than he might have wanted. The 7,500-student city school district has been struggling for years to meet state benchmarks on standardized tests. It was in debt. And its funding was being cut.
The Corbett administration’s approach — putting the district in receivership — would have turned all York City schools over to a charter schools company. Under the court-approved plan, that company, unlike most charter schools in the state, would have been required to serve all of the district’s students, those needing special education and alternative education included.
In a court filing this week, the Wolf administration is asking that the request for a state takeover be rescinded. The governor’s spokesman said Wednesday that Wolf wants to appoint a new chief recovery officer and set up a committee, co-chaired by that officer and York Mayor Kim Bracey. The committee would be charged with seeking community suggestions toward getting the district’s finances in order.
Given the district’s recent struggles, the Wolf administration should expand its focus beyond finances.
As in many urban school districts, students are struggling in schools that fail to deliver a quality education.
“We cannot continue to go on with the status quo and business as usual,” York City School Board member Michael Breeland told the York Daily Record.
“I think the district needs to move forward with a total transformational plan that changes the way education is addressed in this district,” Breeland told the paper.
Fortunately, Wolf, a York County native and resident, has former School District of Lancaster Superintendent Pedro Rivera in charge of education. Rivera knows urban schools. And, if the Wolf administration believes the charter-school approach is a bad idea, his administration should offer a plan in its place.
Urban school districts need heroes in Harrisburg. Wolf and Rivera should show their mettle in that regard in York. They should deliver both the resources and a plan — for the sake of the students in York, for those in all of Pennsylvania’s struggling school districts and for the future of our state.