Duquesne charter school plan considered
By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Published: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, 1:11 a.m.
Duquesne Charter School is unprepared to take on the education of city children, according to the district's chief recovery officer, Paul Rach.
“A charter school is not feasible under current law,” Rach testified on Friday during Duquesne City School District's public hearing to review Duquesne Charter School Founding Group's application to operate a kindergarten through sixth-grade facility for approximately 200 students, either within Duquesne Education Center or the former Duquesne Catholic School.
Duquesne City School District is working through a financial and educational recovery plan, mandated by the state Department of Education and Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade attend Duquesne Education Center, while the education of students in seventh through 12th grades is outsourced to West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny schools.
Facilitated by court-appointed receiver Paul B. Long, Friday's hearing allowed time for testimony by Duquesne Charter School founders, district personnel and the public.
“This is a formal hearing for the purpose of gathering facts so as to reach a decision as to whether to grant approval of the Duquesne Charter School,” Long explained. “No decision will be issued today.”
By state law, Long's decision can be made no sooner than Feb. 10 and no later than March 12. As a supplement to Friday's proceedings, public comment may be submitted in writing, along with any responses to questions raised by the applicant or district, by Jan. 10 at 5 p.m.
“We are not here to replace Duquesne City or any other district,” Duquesne Charter School Founding Group president Connie Lucas said. “Our goal is to provide a high standard of education for children right here in their community.”
Rach and acting Superintendent Barbara McDonnell flipped through the Duquesne Charter School application page by page, adding footnotes on each section listing what they described as inconsistencies, contradictions and references to out-of-date law.
“This proposal is inappropriate,” McDonnell said several times. “There is no comprehensive model of operations in this document.”
McDonnell and Rach did not highlight some sections of the application, but clarified that their lack of comment did not imply approval. They said it seemed many pages were copied directly from other sources, but the sources were not revealed.
“Without source materials referenced, we cannot research some of these materials,” Rach said.
After the hearing, Lucas said she thought many of the questions raised on Friday had been addressed in the current application, which essentially is a revision of an application that was denied earlier this month by the state Charter School Appeal Board.
Lucas said the current application was developed “just in case” the original plan was denied. She said curriculum issues prompted the appeal board to deny the first application.
When asked why a full curriculum was not provided on Friday — knowing that had been the cause for denial in the first round of application — Lucas said it will be submitted by the Jan. 10 deadline. During testimony, co-founder Carolyn Perrin said the application does not include a math curriculum, but it has been prepared and is ready to be submitted.
“This is a tremendous pioneering effort, here,” co-founder Larry Hasan said. “You have to take time to see the vision.”
District officials argued that there is no vision in place and that so-called innovative concepts listed in the application are educational practices that have been used for years in Pennsylvania, some since the 1980s.
Elected school board member Burton Comensky spoke of the school's limited resources and said he has faith in the new administration's effort to give each student the education he or she needs.
“The amount of money that a charter school will take out of the district is unfeasible for our district to lose,” he said. “Half the amount of students also is unfeasible to lose.”
Comensky said Duquesne schools are improving slowly, reiterating points made by administrators since the start of the 2013-14 school year with the development of individual learning plans for all students.
According to Pennsylvania's School Performance Profile data, made available to the public online at www.paschoolperformance.org, Duquesne Elementary has a low score of 49.3. Comensky mentioned the performance of Wilkinsburg Borough schools — both elementary buildings performing in the mid-50s — from where Duquesne Charter School co-founder Archie Perrin recently retired. That district has made headlines in recent months for educational and financial management issues.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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