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West Mifflin Area School Board keeps lawsuit options open

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Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 4:56 a.m.
 

West Mifflin Area School District says its tentative plans to sue state Department of Education over what it claims are unfair reimbursements it receives for educating Duquesne students will remain an option if negotiations don't work out.

The school board on Thursday approved an action that keeps the threat of the lawsuit on the table.

The board earlier rejected a motion that would have outright authorized district solicitor George Gobel to move ahead with legal action against the state.

Board member Judy Andzelik, who wanted to table the motion altogether, said she doubted a lawsuit would have any success against the state because of the current political climate in Harrisburg, which she characterized as pro-charter school.

She and school board member Harry Fast voted against the lawsuit.

Board member Ron Rubinsak said he thought the district should authorize the solicitor to negotiate with involved parties before filing suit.

The district began considering the legal action several months ago over what it says are discrepancies between what it receives for educating Duquesne students and reimbursements the state pays to charter schools.

The district says it only receives $10,500 per Duquesne student while charter schools may receive up to $28,500 for teaching those same students.

The district has estimated its losses at about $4 million since it started taking Duquesne students five years ago because of the discrepancies.

Superintendent Daniel Castagna said he's in favor of such a suit.

“I would love to make a statement to the state about this,” Castagna said. “The time to take the fight to them is now.”

Gobel wanted to keep the option of a lawsuit on the table as a bargaining chip.

He told board members who were hesitant about the action that the matter shouldn't be tabled.

Gobel said he has discussed the matter with officials from East Allegheny School District, which also is mandated to take students from the troubled Duquesne school district, and expects the East Allegheny board will discuss the matter in February.

Gobel said delaying the action could cost West Mifflin Area more money if all of Duquesne's students are transferred to the two districts next year.

This past year, the state ordered the two districts to take seventh- and eighth-graders from Duquesne. High school students from Duquesne have been attending school in the two districts since 2007.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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