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Penn Hills clarifies charter numbers

| Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 12:30 p.m.

Forty-five students have not left the Penn Hills School District since mid-November.

Forty-five students have left the district since the beginning of enrollment for this school year, according to superintendent Thomas Washington and secondary education director Bill McClarnon.

Washington and McClarnon last week clarified the figures handed out at a Jan. 6 finance committee meeting, which included a heading labeled “Charter School Enrollment,” and listed 788 students next to “1 113/13” and 833 students next to “ 16/14.”

Washington said that number represents the billings for charter school students which the district has reconciled this year.

McClarnon said those numbers stretch back as far as mid-August, when enrollment opened for the 2013-14 school year.

“We may get students who enroll into charters in September, October or November, and we may not get an invoice for them until November or December,” McClarnon said. “So we're going back to seeing, okay, they picked up an eighth-grader here, they picked up an 11th-grader there.”

When McClarnon receives a stack of new invoices, he said it may involve a sizable number of students — 45 in this case — but that number covers several months.

The actual month-to-month numbers, Washington said, were five students in November and five more in December for a total of 10. No mention of that number was made at the meeting, nor was it listed in the finance committee packet available on the district's website.

School board and committee member Heather Hoolahan, in her comments at the committee meeting, also appeared to have misinterpreted the numbers, saying that “we lost 45 students in five weeks.”

Neither Washington nor McClarnon, who were both in attendance, corrected her or explained what the number actually represented.

McClarnon said that was a mistake.

“Had I tried to explain it in that emotionally-charged setting, I don't know that I'd have been able to do it as well,” he said.

Hoolahan questioned that response.

“If you're not there to answer questions that are relevant to the topics being discussed, then why are we on this merry-go-round?” she asked. “They're spending more time correcting the technical time issue than correcting the hemorrhaging of students from this district.”

Hoolahan said she considers the amount of time involved in losing 45 students to be “semantics” and “minutiae” at this point.

“Okay, we didn't lose 45 kids in five weeks — we still lost them,” she said. “This is indicative to me of a lack of communication between offices, and that we're going to pay attention to the minutiae that we can correct, rather than focus on the larger problems that are plaguing our district.”

School board members receive regular weekly updates from the district's pupil-services department on students leaving for charter schools.

“I think we learned a lesson that we need to be more clear on some of these things,” Washington said.

The school board will meet next on Jan. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Linton Middle School, located at 250 Aster Street.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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