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Elizabeth Forward says it can't accept Duquesne transfers

| Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 8:13 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward School District said on Thursday it will not participate in a voluntary transfer of elementary school students sought by state-appointed Duquesne chief recovery officer Paul B. Long.

Long contacted 11 districts about his scenario of tuitioning out approximately 440 students from Duquesne at $8,000 per student.

“The Elizabeth Forward School District understands the difficult financial situation that the Duquesne School District is currently experiencing, but is unable to accept students from any other district,” superintendent Bart Rocco said in a statement sent to The Daily News.

Rocco said it is the statement the Elizabeth Forward school board wants to make, but Long said he hadn't heard directly from the district.

“When they do send me correspondence I will be responding to that,” Long said. “I don't want to be answering their mail through the newspaper.”

A voluntary transfer is Long's preferred scenario among four outlined in a plan he will submit to Duquesne's school board at a special meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m.

The plan also must be approved by state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis.

“The financial conditions of the Duquesne school district mirrors many failing districts across the commonwealth because of inequities that exist in the funding of public education,” said Rocco, a former West Mifflin Area administrator who has led the EF district since July 2009.

Rocco said Elizabeth Forward struggled financially over the last several years “because of the lack of state funding.”

Rocco expressed the hope “that with the right government support the Duquesne students will be enabled to be educated in their home school.”

Keeping Duquesne youngsters at their present school along Kennedy Avenue is another scenario Long offered, but one he labeled as “academically undesirable and fiscally unsustainable.”

Long sent proposals to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area, which have taken Duquesne high school students since 2007 under a state mandate, as well as to Gateway, Norwin, South Allegheny, South Park Township, Baldwin-Whitehall, Brentwood, West Jefferson Hills and Pittsburgh.

State Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, whose House district includes four of those school districts, said the state education department failed its constitutional mandate to provide a “thorough and efficient education system” in Duquesne.

Kortz said $8,000 per student “is not nearly enough, nor is there additional monies to address the special needs students.”

He cited West Mifflin Area's contention that the $10,500 given per Duquesne high school student is far below that district's cost per student of $14,000.

Rocco also addressed Gov. Tom Corbett, who last summer signed into law the act that established the financial recovery process involving Duquesne, and Tomalis, who appointed Long to develop the plan under consideration.

Rocco said it is imperative that Corbett and Tomalis “find a different way to fund failing schools without transferring students from their home and communities.”

That drew a rebuke from state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, a former EF board member.

“Like every other district, (Elizabeth Forward) has received more state funds than ever in the history of Pennsylvania,” Saccone said. “They need to negotiate contracts and manage the taxpayers' money better.”

In explaining his $8,000 proposal, Long said tuition paid out for elementary students is usually less than that that for secondary students.

Long's other scenarios are mandated placements or establishment of a Duquesne charter school.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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