Noting the district's long history of academic and financial failures, the chief recovery officer for the Duquesne School District has recommended sending Duquesne's approximately 440 students in grades K-6 to neighboring districts on a voluntary basis starting with the 2013-14 school year.
That option was announced Monday in a recovery plan developed by Paul B. Long, who was appointed Duquesne's chief recovery officer in November by state Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis under new legislation for dealing with the state's poorest schools.
The recommendation to send the Duquesne elementary students to other districts that would volunteer to take them was the second of four options outlined earlier by Mr. Long. It was not unexpected, as Duquesne students in grades 7-12 attend on a tuition basis either East Allegheny or West Mifflin Area school districts. But that arrangement came via a mandate created by the state Legislature in 2007.
Under Mr. Long's plan, on or about March 1, he will provide potential receiving districts with a proposal for the placement of K-6 students from the district for 2013-14 school year. His plan calls for offering $8,000 per K-6 student accepted by another district.
Mr. Long said he hasn't yet developed the list of districts but that he cannot send Duquesne students to schools on the state's lowest-achieving 15 percent of schools, nor does he want to send them distances farther than about 10 miles from Duquesne. He said he eventually will release the list of districts that will be approached.
McKeesport, Steel Valley and Woodland Hills have schools on the list of lowest-achieving in the state.
Statements of interest by receiving districts are to be submitted to Mr. Long no later than March 22, and he will determine by April 15 whether the voluntary plan will work for 2013-14.
Financial aspects of the plan include no-interest state loans to cover extraordinary costs of the plan implementation and to facilitate refunding of some of the district's outstanding $13.7 million debt. It also calls for maintaining the district's real estate assets, which include the Duquesne Education Center and athletic center, for possible leasing, and for maintaining a core administrative staff to direct regular and special education placements, manage finances, coordinate student transportation and provide other basic functions.
The other three options that Mr. Long had considered were: what he termed a "baseline" option of maintaining the current K-6 school in Duquesne; a plan to send students to other districts via a mandate such as the 7-12 students; and either setting up or converting the Duquesne elementary to a charter school.
All three of the plans have obstacles. Mr. Long said maintaining the current program and operating a charter school are economically unfeasible given current funding formulas. Sending students to other district via mandate would require new state legislation.
Mr. Long said if the voluntary option fails then he will have to revisit the viability of the other options and there is a possibility the K-6 program could remain in Duquesne for another year while one of the other options is worked out.
The Duquesne school board has 10 days to decide whether to approve Mr. Long's plan. If it is not approved, the matter goes to Common Pleas Court, where a receiver will be appointed to carry the plan out.
If the board approves the plan, it will be submitted to Mr. Tomalis, who has 10 days to review and approve it. If the secretary disapproves, Mr. Long has 20 days to revise the plan.
School board president DeWayne Tucker said he was disappointed in the report's recommendation.
"Nobody wants to lose their school ever and that's never been considered," Mr. Tucker said. He also pointed out that the poor academic performance of the students came during the past dozen years when the district was operated by a state board of control, not the elected board.
He noted that the elected board doesn't have much power in this situation because the matter goes to Common Pleas Court if the school board votes it down. "There's nothing for us to really vote on anyway. That's the sad part of all of this," Mr. Tucker said.
Phil Shar, president of the West Mifflin Area school board, said he does not believe his district would be interested in taking Duquesne's K-6 students because of the low tuition offered, even though it already has the majority of the 7-12 students. The West Mifflin board has discussed suing the state to get the same rate as charter schools for the Duquesne students, rather than the $10,500 it gets for each student in grades 7-9 and the $10,000 it receives for students in grades 10-12.
"Speaking for myself, the chances are zero percent. We don't think $10,500 is enough. How would we accept $8,000? We would be cheating our taxpayers. It costs us $14,000 to education one student," Mr. Shar said.
Mary Niederberger: email@example.com; 412-263-1590.