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Duquesne school funds restored; AIU cuts ties with district

| Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On the eve of tonight`s 2011-12 budget vote by Duquesne City School District`s state-appointed Board of Control, the district may be gaining some of the money it would have lost in Harrisburg budget cuts.

'We were able to restore quite a bit of money to Duquesne and some money to every school district in my (45th Senatorial) district and across the state,' Sen. James R. Brewster, D-McKeesport, said late Monday after budget negotiations.

However, DCSD also is losing Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which ran Duquesne Education Center`s day-to-day operations for the past four years.

At a regular monthly board meeting Monday night in Homestead, AIU`s board of directors voted unanimously to end its inter-governmental agreement with the district, effective Thursday.

The unit`s executive director Dr. Linda Hippert, who is Duquesne`s superintendent of record under that agreement, said it was an amicable separation.

'It has been a privilege to serve the students in the Duquesne City School District,' Hippert said in a statement issued by AIU.

AIU is a state-related agency, a descendant of the old Allegheny County School Board, which offers supplemental education services to all 42 suburban Pittsburgh school districts within the state`s second-largest county.

In a statement issued by AIU spokeswoman Sarah McCluan, the Homestead-based entity said the action 'was thoughtfully taken as well as discussed' with the BOC and Pennsylvania Department of Education.

However, as the statement also noted, 'the AIU has requested a waiver to the 60-day notice to all parties as stipulated in the agreement.'

AIU pledged to 'continue to be available to provide assistance as needed, and will work with the district to ensure a smooth transition.'

The BOC will meet tonight at 7 at Duquesne Education Center to take final action on a budget that, after preliminary approval last month, stood at $14.27 million in expenditures but only $11.75 million in anticipated revenues.

'What we looked at is what`s required,' state executive deputy secretary of education Amy C. Morton said after last month`s BOC vote. 'What are the programs that are mandated?'

Even if additional money was found, the budget would cut the teaching staff by 44 percent; eliminate all after-school programs, including tutoring; reduce the number of administrators at DEC to two; and necessitate an undisclosed reduction of support staff.

Brewster could not give specific figures at presstime, saying 'it is not as much as we wanted but it is progress and I think it is going in the right direction.'

He said he and state Rep. Marc J. Gergely, D-White Oak, made a commitment to seek that funding be restored to Duquesne, including a special $1.9 million payment given on top of the district`s basic subsidy.

'Republican budget negotiators must meet the needs of Duquesne and provide answers to the students and parents about the future of the school,' Gergely said in a joint statement he and Brewster issued last week.

'We were able to lower that cut,' Brewster said Monday night, 'and in Duquesne`s case, that`s a special circumstance, and we worked extra hard to maintain basic education there.'

The AIU`s action stunned Brewster, who said he was not aware of it.

It apparently did not come as a surprise in the city of 5,565 where AIU had run operations at DEC since July 1, 2007.

'I heard they were going to do that,' Mayor Phil Krivacek said. 'It was just a rumor on the streets. I heard that last week.'

The state contracted AIU`s services as it was closing Duquesne High School and, under Act 45 of 2007, transferred secondary students from Duquesne to West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny high schools.

AIU succeeded the Pittsburgh Public Schools system that had run Duquesne operations during the high school`s last year. Pittsburgh received $500,000 for its services, while AIU said it received $300,000 a year.

'It is sad,' Krivacek said. 'When you lose your school, you lose your image. It is never going to be the same. There is so much pride in this city. They`re proud of what happened in that district for all those years.'

Hippert acknowledged that Duquesne youngsters 'as well as all children in the commonwealth, deserve a high-quality public education, and it is important that students have access to equitable services and supports so that they may be competitive.

'As educators, we must do all that we can to assure this occurs,' she said. 'I will always hold a special place in my heart for the children of Duquesne as I have seen first-hand what is needed in their school. The AIU will work with all involved to ensure a smooth transition.'

It is not clear if members of the elected school board were consulted about the decision.

'I am unable to make a comment at this time,' elected school director Sonya Chambers said.

Other members of the elected board, as well as BOC members and the PDE`s chief spokesman, were unavailable for comment.

Krivacek agreed the decision was done with a lot of thought, and said he had heard this would be the final year for Duquesne Education Center.

'Anything that happens in the Duquesne City School District happens in Harrisburg first,' the mayor said. 'It doesn`t happen randomly.'

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