Forum informs Duquesne recovery officer
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 4:06 a.m.
Duquesne City School District's state-appointed chief recovery officer said residents should not dwell on the past.
“We've got to move forward,” Paul Long urged an audience of about 50 Duquesne residents on Tuesday at Macedonia Baptist Church
Long asked them to give input for a recovery plan he must finish by Jan. 31, and that the school board must accept by Feb. 10.
If school directors reject it, the state Board of Education may ask Allegheny County Common Pleas Court to name a receiver.
In an often stormy forum running two hours, many in attendance recalled nearly two decades of decline.
“They remodeled (the old high school) knowing we couldn't afford it,” special education teacher Shawn Domer said, referring to work that resulted in a $15 million debt.
“Fifteen million that is still owed,” school director Burton Comensky said.
The school now houses kindergarten through sixth grade.
“Why are they fixing up (Duquesne Education Center) when our babies are going to leave us?” Lina Washington asked, suggesting that Long's plan will call for tuitioning out those remaining classes.
“It is something that is being considered but it is not a done deal,” Long said.
Dr. Norman Randolph, a former assistant superintendent at West Mifflin Area, questioned the law that mandated transferring high school students from Duquesne to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area.
“It was obviously bad law,” Long conceded.
Long's stated mission is to develop a plan that provides for stable and sustainable finances and an improved education for Duquesne students.
He pointed to Pennsylvania System of School Assessment results, which show that most third- and fifth-graders are not proficient in math or reading.
Connie Lucas, a former elected school director who is advocating a charter school, said for years there had been no standardized education.
“It has been this experimental program, that experimental program,” Lucas said.
Questions also focused on the future of $2.5 million in supplemental money from the state, in addition to annual basic education subsidies.
“I don't think we can count on that continued subsidy,” Long said.
“How come from 1920 to 1970 Duquesne was one of the top five districts in the state?” asked school board president DeWayne Tucker, who was largely a spectator for 13 years as a state-appointed Board of Control ran the district.
“This is the first time in 12 years we have had any input,” Comensky said. “We're standing here in the 12th hour.”
“If and when the elementary (classes are) removed from the city, this city will cease to exist,” said Macedonia's pastor, the Rev. Archie Perrin, a longtime former Duquesne district administrator who was hired by the Wilkinsburg district in 1996 and became its superintendent in 2006.
Perrin said he appreciates Long coming to his church, but urged him to “give us the opportunity to change (Duquesne).”
Long said he did convey what he heard last month at the first of four forums, and would do the same with what he heard on Tuesday.
Perrin planned to meet Long on Wednesday and join the volunteer advisory council working with Long. Several volunteers were in attendance on Tuesday, as were most of the school board.
The volunteers are slated to meet on Tuesday at 5:45 p.m., a day before the next public forum, Jan. 16 at 5 p.m. at Christ the Light of the World Church. A final forum will be on Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at Duquesne Education Center.
Long said data from Duquesne is being gathered by Public Financial Management Inc., a Philadelphia firm contracted to help Long and other recovery officers form plans for troubled districts.
PFM also helped form a plan for Chester Upland School District, which like Duquesne is regarded by state officials as being in “severe financial recovery.” Harrisburg and York districts are regarded as being in “moderate financial recovery.”
Perrin said more districts could be affected if Pennsylvania doesn't change the way it funds public education.
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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