Fate of Duquesne City schools remains unclear

With deadline passed, struggling district poised to undergo major changes

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While the deadline has passed, there is no official word on the fate of the struggling Duquesne City School District.

At a state Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday, the day before the deadline, state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said he expected Duquesne School District will not appeal its preliminary designation as a financial recovery district.

That would pave the way for a chief recovery officer to be appointed and potentially significant changes to be made in the district.

In response to questions as the deadline day came to a close Wednesday, Tim Eller, state Department of Education spokesman, didn't say whether Duquesne had filed a request for the hearing.

In an email he wrote, "As you know, today [Wednesday] is the deadline for Duquesne to respond.

"The secretary will then decide whether or not to sign the final declaration. When will he sign it, I don't know. The secretary has five days to appoint a [chief recovery officer] after issuing the final declaration."

Mr. Tomalis made his comments as he spoke about the status of the four school districts that have been given a financial distress designation, an action made possible by state legislation approved in July.

A chief recovery officer has already been appointed in Chester-Upland in Delaware County. Both Harrisburg and York have challenged their preliminary designations of financial recovery status and hearings are set.

Of Duquesne, Mr. Tomalis said, "It is my understanding they will not be requesting a hearing and will go straight to a final declaration."

If the state board of control overseeing the district does not seek a hearing, within five days of the decision, that board will be dissolved and the elected school board will be given control of the district and a chief recovery officer will be named. Other steps follow.

Duquesne students in grades 7-12 already attend West Mifflin Area or East Allegheny schools. The remaining students are in one building.

Senate Education Committee chair Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, was displeased with the districts that are seeking hearings.

"With regard to those two school districts, I find it reprehensible they're spending money on legal fees that should be spent on educating kids ...

"I find it incredible that districts we're trying to help are fighting the effort to help."

In interviewing candidates for chief recovery officer, Mr. Tomalis said he notes that both fiscal recovery and academic improvement are important.

"We're not just balancing the books. We're also increasing opportunities for children in these districts," he said.

education - neigh_south

Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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