Duquesne board rejects recovery plan

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The Duquesne school board voted down a recommended financial recovery plan that called for requesting 11 surrounding districts to take Duquesne's K-6 students starting as early as the 2013-14 school year.

The vote, taken Thursday, means the matter will head to Common Pleas Court, where a receiver will be named to operate the district to carry out the plan, which was developed by chief recovery officer Paul B. Long. Mr. Long was appointed by state Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis in November under new state legislation aimed at bringing financial stability and academic improvement to the state's poorest school districts.

Under the legislation, known as the Financial Recovery Act, Mr. Tomalis must petition the court within five days to appoint a receiver for the district and the court is expected to act within seven days, said Duquesne solicitor Andrew Evankovich. The receiver could be Mr. Long.

Mr. Long told the Duquesne board that his plan allowed for "placement in better schools" for the students and "sustainable finances" for the district. His recovery plan noted that Duquesne is one of the lowest-achieving schools in the state, with a 27 percent special education population.

Board president DeWayne Tucker said the board did not have enough time to digest the plan and that the board had no voice in its formation. Eight members of the board voted against the board and one -- Burton Comensky -- abstained.

The recovery plan, presented by Mr. Long on Feb. 11, calls for paying neighboring districts $8,000 per student in tuition. There are currently about 350 students in grades K-6.

The districts Mr. Long has targeted are: Baldwin-Whitehall, Brentwood, East Allegheny, Elizabeth Forward, Gateway, Norwin, South Allegheny, South Park, West Jefferson Hills, West Mifflin and Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Several audience members said the students should not be sent as far away as South Park, and some asked that the $8,000 be given in the form of vouchers so parents could use it to send their children to private schools.

Duquesne resident Connie Lucas reminded the audience that she has an application for a charter school in Duquesne pending before the state Charter Appeals Board.

Since fall 2007, Duquesne high school students have attended either East Allegheny or West Mifflin Area high schools, an arrangement made possible by state legislation approved that year. State education officials used that same legislation to transfer the seventh- and eighth-grade students to those districts this year.

Because the original legislation does not include elementary students, Mr. Long can request, but not order, that other districts take the K-6 students.

So far, Elizabeth Forward, South Allegheny and East Allegheny officials have said they do not want the Duquesne elementary students.

Other scenarios Mr. Long considered for his plan were to keep the current K-6 program operating in Duquesne, establishing a charter school or mandating nearby districts to take the elementary students. But, he said, there is not enough money to operate the current program or a charter school, and forcing districts to take the Duquesne elementary students would require new state legislation.

Mr. Long said if the all 11 districts refuse to take the Duquesne students, there will likely be a K-6 school in Duquesne in 2013-14 but that the receiver would work to make one of the other options a reality for the following year.

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Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1590.


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