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Duquesne youngsters could end up at W. Mifflin

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Saturday, May 18, 2013, 1:26 a.m.
 

A plan to transfer Duquesne Education Center elementary students to West Mifflin Area schools is back in play.

“Discussions with West Mifflin Area have resumed in regard to the enrollment of K-6 students for the 2013-2014 school year,” court-appointed Duquesne City School District receiver Paul B. Long said in an email on Friday to faculty members and administrative staff.

“There are several scenarios with varying involvement of grade levels and schools that are being considered,” Long continued, in an email The Daily News received through other sources. “Nothing is yet final. However, I expect that a preferred scenario will become clear over the next few weeks.”

Long confirmed late Friday that he had shared that email. He stressed that “no agreement has yet been made between Duquesne and West Mifflin” and that preparations still are being made to hold classes this fall at Duquesne Education Center.

West Mifflin Area School District Superintendent Daniel Castagna could not be reached for comment at presstime. Duquesne teachers and staff were advised about the situation at a meeting Friday morning.

“The teachers were called into a meeting ... and were told that negotiations with West Mifflin have reopened and their (school) may not be in existence next year,” Pennsylvania State Education Association field director Butch Santicola said. PSEA affiliate Duquesne Education Association represents the teachers at the education center.

“As a professional courtesy, the staff was reminded that although talks are continuing with school districts as per the district's Recovery Plan, there have been no new developments and that we are continuing with our plan to hold classes for children in grades K-6 for the 2013-14 school year,” district spokeswoman Sarah McCluan said via an email Friday morning.

McCluan said she was directed to issue that statement by acting district Superintendent Paul Rach, who sought to clarify the situation in an email to The Daily News.

“The district administration has prepared and will present a proposed budget for a K-6 building, including a staffing plan,” Rach wrote Friday afternoon. “That is the current plan and in that respect there is nothing new to report. In my role, my concern is in planning to open a K-6 building, which is my charge.”

Long indicated he was not able to meet in person with the teachers and administrative staff.

“I would have much preferred to meet and speak with you,” Long emailed the Duquesne employees. “However, I will be out of town on travel which could not be postponed.”

As McCluan noted, Duquesne students in grades 7-12 attend East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area secondary schools. Seventh- and eighth-graders were added in the 2012-13 year to the transfers of grade 9-12 students mandated by state law.

Santicola said he was “a little bit surprised” by the development and said matters are “following almost a similar pattern to what happened at the high school” in Duquesne.

He also said that contract negotiations between DEA and the district are “still on hold.” Duquesne teachers have worked under the terms of a previous contract since it expired June 30, 2012.

Long previously said the preferred scenario under his recovery plan is for a transfer of the elementary students to another district at a tuition of $8,000 apiece.

He sought out 11 school districts, 10 of which did not have “low-achieving” schools based on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test results.

On Feb. 25, West Mifflin Area's board unanimously rejected Long's proposal.

Baldwin-Whitehall, Brentwood, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, Gateway, Norwin, South Allegheny and West Jefferson Hills also turned Duquesne down, while South Park Township school officials said they could not take action until a decision is made regarding renovation or reconstruction of the district's middle school.

Long conducted talks recently with Pittsburgh, which does have some low-achieving schools but has four that aren't low achieving within 10 miles of Duquesne.

On April 23 Long said the schedule “moved too aggressively” to allow for a voluntary transfer of elementary students this fall to Pittsburgh schools. Still, he said, “significant headway has been made” in talks with Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators.

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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