Recovery chief says merger not an option for Duquesne
A merger of Duquesne City School District with a neighboring district is no longer being considered, state-appointed chief recovery officer Paul B. Long told a forum on Wednesday.
“That would require an act of the state legislature,” Long told approximately 30 people in a hall at Christ the Light of the World Church.
Long spoke at the third of four forums required under Act 141 of 2012, which mandates that he come up with a five-year plan for Duquesne no later than Jan. 31.
The school board must act on the plan by Feb. 10.
The final forum will be Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at Duquesne Education Center.
Participants at Wednesday's forum asked Long to seek a deadline extension for proposing a plan.
“How much input are we really going to have?” school director Burton Comensky asked. “Why hasn't the chief recovery officer asked the elected board (for input)?”
Long said he decided at a meeting of his council of volunteer advisors on Tuesday to ask for a private session with the board on Jan. 28, a day before its next meeting.
Board president DeWayne Tucker reiterated a point he's made at earlier forums, that Duquesne is being made a scapegoat instead of other districts that are under state financial recovery.
Duquesne and Chester Upland are regarded by state officials as being in “serious financial recovery.” Harrisburg City and York City are classified as being in “moderate financial recovery.”
Tucker said Chester Upland is far bigger, with a $101 million budget that is more than six times Duquesne's.
Four concepts are under consideration, Long said:
• A continued “baseline” kindergarten-through-grade 6 operation at Duquesne Education Center.
• Placing or tuitioning all elementary students to nearby districts at a negotiated rate.
• Tuitioning those students at a legislated rate, as was done for Duquesne students who were sent to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area high schools.
• Sanctioning a charter-operated K-6 school at Duquesne Education Center.
“This is to me the most hopeful way of doing that,” Long said. “This one has a lot of appeal.”
A majority on the school board has supported a proposal for a charter school spearheaded by former school director Connie Lucas.
“We want some kind of good quality education in this town,” board vice president Calvina Harris, a charter school advocate, said. “We want more for ourselves and our children in Duquesne.”
“This is not just a Duquesne phenomenon,” resident and charter school advocate Larry Hassan said, comparing the city's situation to the rest of the nation. “But it must be solved here.”
The Rev. Archie Perrin, a former Duquesne district administrator, said the Pennsylvania Department of Education “failed us for 12 years,” referring to state control of the district since 2000.
“We just want a year, two years,” Perrin said.
Perrin said he had found that the scores of Duquesne students on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests had not been included in total scores for East Allegheny or West Mifflin Area.
“The Department of Education decided to allow the scores of the Duquesne students not to be attributed to the receiving district,” Perrin said.
“Why are our children there?” Lucas asked. “It looks as if our children might have had a better chance to survive if they had stayed in Duquesne.”
A merger was ruled out, Long said, as well as continuing a kindergarten-grade 3 school at Duquesne, “which would be less efficient than a K-6 school.”
Also ruled out is contracting out Duquesne Education Center to an educational management operator, a move Long said is “fraught with legal and financial risks.”
Alternative Public Schools Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn., ran Turner Elementary School under an agreement with Wilkinsburg Borough School District from 1995-98. State Supreme Court ruled Wilkinsburg did not have authority to sign that agreement.
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.