Judge postpones naming receiver of Duquesne schools

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Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge Judith L.A. Friedman wants to know more about where Duquesne City School District's K-6 students will be going to school this fall before she approves appointing a receiver to run the district.

In a hearing on the receivership Monday, Judge Friedman continued the case until April 2 after attorney Burrell Brown, representing the community, raised the question of whether any of the four options in a financial recovery plan would work.

He argued it was "just a piece of paper," not a real financial plan.

Samantha Snyder, assistant counsel for the state Department of Education, maintained that the contents of the financial recovery plan were not relevant to whether a receiver is named.

But Judge Friedman said, "The question has been properly raised: Is this really a plan?"

She said she could not "in good conscience" give open-ended permission for the children to be sent to "any old school district."

She chided the state for failing to provide enough money for education, saying legislators "should be ashamed of themselves."

The financial recovery plan was developed by Paul B. Long, who was appointed chief recovery officer for the district by state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis in November.

The state asked the judge to name him receiver, which effectively would give him the powers of the elected board.

The plan has four options, but Judge Friedman wasn't convinced any of them is viable.

The one Mr. Long is pursuing first involves getting one or all of 11 school districts within a 10-mile radius to voluntarily accept the 350 children at a tuition rate of $8,000 per student.

Mr. Long said only two of the 11 had not formally rejected the idea. In addition to Pittsburgh -- which has not made a decision -- he listed South Park, where he said "an affirmative reply is not likely."

He said he has "not ruled out further discussion."

The other three options in the plan are to continue the district as it is, using a charter school or mandating districts to accept Duquesne students, which would need new state legislation.

After the hearing, Mr. Long said the recovery plan calls for keeping the students in Duquesne for the next school year if the voluntary plan doesn't work. He said legislation for the other options "may be sought."

Mr. Long said the governor's budget proposal has enough supplemental revenue for the school to operate next school year. If that budget isn't passed, he said the district could use a fund balance.

The districts that rejected voluntarily accepting Duquesne students are Baldwin-Whitehall, Brentwood, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, Gateway, Norwin, South Allegheny, West Jefferson Hills and West Mifflin Area.

Since fall 2007, Duquesne high school students have gone to East Allegheny or West Mifflin Area high schools as a result of state legislation. This school year, seventh- and eight-graders were transferred there as well.

education - neigh_south

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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