Duquesne students could be bused 10 miles
Duquesne City School District may bus elementary students as far away as South Park Township, if a plan put forth by the district's chief recovery officer is implemented.
Paul B. Long confirmed on Tuesday that he has talked to districts whose schools did not score in the bottom 15 percent on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, and which are within a 10-mile radius of Duquesne.
Long ruled out low-achieving schools whose students could qualify for state Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit grants to attend a nonpublic school.
Long said his list includes South Allegheny, South Park, Elizabeth Forward, West Jefferson Hills, Brentwood, Baldwin-Whitehall, East Allegheny, West Mifflin Area and Pittsburgh.
Duquesne school board president Dewayne Tucker said two districts on the list, South Park and Brentwood, “jumped out at me, and vice president Calvina Harris wondered “what kind of mental effect will this have on these kids?”
“They are torn from their families,” Harris said. “They are moved into strange areas.”
State Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said he predicted such a situation when lawmakers passed the act that allowed the state to declare that Duquesne is in “severe financial recovery.”
Under Long's plan Duquesne would pay participating districts $8,000 a year per student. That's $2,500 less than what is paid for each student Duquesne tuitions to West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny high schools.
Gergely noted that those districts are considering legal action over the tuition they get.
Duquesne's school board will conduct an executive session on Tuesday, then vote on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. on Long's 112-page plan and its options:
• The “baseline” option of maintaining the status quo, continuing classes for kindergarteners through grade 6 at Duquesne Education Center.
• The voluntary transfer of 440 students at $8,000 each to districts willing to take them.
• A mandated transfer, such as those that have sent Duquesne's high school-aged students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area since 2007.
• A charter school in Duquesne Education Center.
Long favors the voluntary transfer, saying the first option is not feasible and the others require legislative action.
“Nothing in that report surprises me,” said Butch Santicola, a Pennsylvania State Education Association field director who once negotiated contracts in Duquesne.
Long's plan lists 71 employees in Duquesne: 12 in administration; 37 in instructional and support staff, including 23 teachers; five custodians; five security staff; and 12 personal care assistants. PSEA locals represent teachers and support staff.
“Teachers are taking a beating,” Santicola said. “They can't get substitutes into the building. They can't order supplies.”
Santicola said the community should be allowed to work out a plan without outside influence.
The Rev. Archie Perrin, who has been an adminstrator in Duquesne and Wilkinsburg school districts, called the plan a farce.
“I am officially distressed, disappointed and distraught,” said Perrin, who is pastor of Duquesne's Macedonia Baptist Church. “We have been deceived. That plan did not involve the input from the community.”
Long responded after a Tuesday meeting with his volunteer council of advisors.
“We had a good discussion,” Long said. “I really value the advice and the opinions I get from the advisory council.”Long cited “personal meetings with other community leaders,” including Mayor Phil Krivacek, manager Frank Piccolino III “and several pastors of prominent congregations including Pastor Perrin.”
Harris criticized Krivacek for not attending the forums.
“It is not about me, it is about the kids in this district,” Krivacek retorted. “I do what I do to make Duquesne a better place to live.”
He reiterated that “when you lose your school district you lose your identity.”
Perrin and Harris compared the proposed busing to the slave trade.
“We cannot continue to farm children out,” Perrin said. “Our children cannot be put on an auction block and auctioned off to the highest bidder.”
State Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, said he opposes any policy that would let school districts or communities die on the vine.
“The state should have been doing everything it could to save that district, and it didn't,” Brewster said.
He said he is working for “fair, across the board” reform for all schools.
Gergely laid blame on Gov. Tom Corbett's office “and any legislator who voted” for Act 141, saying it limited Long's options.
“I want to give a lot of credit to Mr. Long,” Gergely said. “I think sincerely he has tried to solve the issues related to Duquesne and its future with respect to education. I think he has the children's future in mind.”
Gergely agreed with Long that a charter school is not a financially viable option but applauded charter school advocate Connie Lucas for having “the best interest of the kids at heart.”
Gergely said he would oppose Long being named as a receiver if the school board rejects his plan and the state Department of Education files suit in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
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.