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State sues to put Duquesne City School District in receivership

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 2:03 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education filed suit on Tuesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, asking that Duquesne City School District be put in receivership.

A motions judge is scheduled to consider the request in a civil court hearing on Monday at 1:45 p.m.

At a speciala meeting last Thursday, Duquesne school board rejected a financial recovery plan developed by state-appointed Chief Recovery Officer Paul B. Long.

Long declined to speculate about what would happen under a receivership.

He acknowledged being education secretary Ron Tomalis' nominee, but said, “I would not presume that I would be the judge's appointee.”

Act 141, the state's school financial recovery act signed last year by Gov. Tom Corbett, states “the receiver shall assume all powers and duties of the chief recovery officer and the board of school directors, including all powers and duties of the board (as) stated in the financial recovery plan.”

Copies of the state's filing were delivered before Tuesday night's Duquesne school board meeting to school directors, Superintendent Paul Rach and Solicitor William Andrews.

After a prolonged executive session that delayed the start of the meeting by 40 minutes, directors declined comment and no one spoke from the audience.

The lawsuit asks that Long be named the receiver, citing his “20 years of service in executive level positions” in Pennsbury School District near Philadelphia and North Allegheny School District.

If a judge approves, that would allow Long to implement a plan that includes the voluntary transfer of Duquesne elementary students to any nearby district where schools meet state standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law and officials are willing to accept a tuition of $8,000 per student.

Should no area district accept those students, Long would be responsible for developing an alternative, possibly meaning that Duquesne Education Center would remain a school for students in kindergarten through sixth grade for the foreseeable future.

Long's other options would require legislative approval. One would mandate the transfer of Duquesne students, just as Duquesne high school students transferred to East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area districts. The other would allow establishment of a charter school in Duquesne. So far, West Mifflin Area, Elizabeth Forward, Norwin and South Allegheny districts have rejected Long's bid to accept Duquesne students. He also planned to approach Baldwin-Whitehall, Brentwood, East Allegheny, Gateway, Pittsburgh, South Park Township and West Jefferson Hills.

The board also could levy and raise taxes “if directed to do so by the receiver.”

“The school board is required to follow the direction of the receiver,” Andrews said.

Asked if the school board still could conduct agendas, the solicitor said, “That would be up to the receiver.”

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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