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State rep weighs in on the Duquesne schools situation

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 1:31 a.m.

Duquesne's assemblyman urged adults to be professional about efforts by court-ordered receiver Paul B. Long to save public education in Duquesne City School District.

“It's all about the kids,” state Rep. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, said on Thursday. “We're going to have to roll up our sleeves and work with him.”

Gergely and Long each said they have had conversations.

One-time McKeesport Area school board president Gergely has represented Duquesne and the 35th Legislative District for 11 years.

Except for a short period after the dissolution last year of a state-appointed Board of Control, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has had direct control of the Duquesne district since 2000.

Gergely has not been happy about the situation that led to Long's appointment on Monday by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Judith L.A. Friedman.

“I wanted to see a community facilitator be the receiver,” Gergely said. “I just disagree with his being both the recovery officer and the receiver.”

Still, the White Oak Democrat said, “The judge ... can do a lot of things herself in terms of implementation. Maybe we will be encouraging her to make some tough decisions.”

He said Friedman “needs to continue a very stringent oversight of this implementation to make sure the voice of the community is heard.”

An education department spokesman declined comment about Gergely's remarks.

After Friedman's ruling, Long said, “We are going to have to make a real effort to reach out to the elected school board and the Duquesne community to help us through this process.”

Gergely has questioned the constitutionality of Act 141, the law Gov. Tom Corbett signed last year that established the category of “severe financial recovery” into which the distressed Duquesne district was placed by education secretary Ron Tomalis.

“I understand what Mr. Long is trying to do,” Gergely said. “The tools have been so limited for him to achieve what is necessary.”

However, Gergely isn't keen about a plan to voluntarily transfer Duquesne elementary students to another district, possibly Pittsburgh, at a tuition of $8,000 per student.

Long said on Monday that he is “working on that administratively” with Pittsburgh public school officials.

Those officials have confirmed talks are taking place, but made no additional comment since Monday.

“We're creating a transient class of students from Duquesne,” Gergely said, referring also to the mandated transfer of secondary school students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area.

The White Oak Democrat said he would prefer a situation that allows Duquesne students to “have roots and a foundation and build a dignity and a pride” in one location.

Gergely said he could not comment directly about Friedman's call for letters to legislators about increased funding of public education, as he wasn't in the courtroom.

“The legislature has to take on its financial obligations,” the judge said. “I can't see how long they can dodge that responsibility.”

But Gergely said he agrees with the idea of constituents writing to their lawmakers.

“I encourage folks to share their ideas with us,” the White Oak Democrat said. “Sometimes I disagreed with Gov. (Ed) Rendell, too.”

Through Long, Friedman's order continues direct state control of the Duquesne district, something that went on for more than a decade under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

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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