Duquesne City district likely to continue
It appears Duquesne City School District will continue to operate this fall out of its current elementary school.
Shortly after Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Judith L.A. Friedman continued until April 2 a hearing on the Pennsylvania Department of Education request to put the district into receivership, the state-appointed chief recovery officer said he had negative responses from most districts asked to accept Duquesne children voluntarily.
“Of the 11 school districts that have been invited to participate, the following ones have declined: Baldwin-Whitehall, Brentwood, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, Norwin, Gateway, South Allegheny, West Jefferson Hills and West Mifflin Area,” Paul B. Long emailed.
“Pittsburgh is still considering the proposal,” Long said. “The South Park school board has not responded formally, but an affirmative reply is not likely.”
“I told Dr. Long we don't have the space,” East Allegheny superintendent Roger A. D'Emidio said on Monday. “We are at maximum capacity.”
That's capacity for classroom space at Green Valley Primary (K-3) and Logan Middle schools (4-6) and teachers.
“We'd have to hire additional teachers,” D'Emidio said.
Consequently, Long said, “as explained in the recovery plan (presented Feb. 11 to the Duquesne school board), if Scenario 2 (voluntary placements) proves impossible, Scenario 1 (continue Duquesne elementary school) will be followed.”
“By that time we will know (to) what district the recovery officer proposes to send these children,” Friedman said after hearing arguments from attorneys for the department, the school district and a group of city residents including members of the school board.
“The judge's actions were appropriate,” attorney Burrell A. Brown said on behalf of “citizens of the city of Duquesne.”
Long had four scenarios. He said Scenario 1, continuing classes at Duquesne Education Center, was deemed financially and educationally not feasible but would be a baseline for three other scenarios.
Scenario 2, the voluntary transfers to public schools within 10 miles of Duquesne that achieved Adequate Yearly Progress on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests at a tuition of $8,000 per student, was Long's preferred scenario.
He had two other scenarios, mandated transfers that would require legislation of the sort used to send Duquesne secondary students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area, and a charter school at Duquesne Education Center which was something he did not think was affordable.
Still, Long said, “I have not ruled out further discussion.”
Friedman was applauded when she criticized the General Assembly for not providing adequate funding for poor districts such as Duquesne.
“I think it really is unfair to students all over, not to have a fair system of education,” Friedman said. “Why should their children be paying for their lack of prosperity? The state should be paying for their education.”
Brown and Duquesne district solicitor William Andrews asked for the continuance.
Department attorney Samantha Snyder argued that Long, who was appointed by state education secretary Ron Tomalis as chief recovery officer, should be named as the district's receiver after the school board rejected his financial recovery plan.
She said Long met the qualifications as set out in Act 141.
“The whole thing is based on the finances of the Duquesne City School District,” Snyder argued. The district has been declared by Tomalis to be in “severe financial recovery.”
Brown said he would not dignify calling Long's document a plan.
“Just because a piece of paper says it is a financial plan does not make it a financial plan,” Brown said. “We request that there be a continuance so that there can be a fully fleshed out plan.”
Snyder declined comment after the hearing, referring inquiries to the department's spokesman Tim Eller in Harrisburg.
Andrews also declined comment, but Duquesne Superintendent Paul Rach said “business as usual” would continue at the Duquesne Education Center elementary school.
Act 141, also known as Section 671-A in the state school code, “clearly spells out the timeline for the appointment of a receiver,” Eller said.
Eller said Tomalis petitioned the Allegheny County court within five days of the school board's rejection of Long's plan. He said a hearing then had to be held within a week of that petition.
“Within 10 days after the hearing the court shall issue an order granting or denying the receivership,” Eller said.
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.