School board, residents, teachers frustrated at lack of state response

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It's been four weeks since the state board of control overseeing the Duquesne City School District notified the state Department of Education that it would not oppose its decision to place the district in preliminary financial recovery status.

But no further action has been taken to name a chief recovery officer, who under new state legislation would be charged with coming up with a financial recovery plan for the district. Such a plan could include converting it to a charter school or sending the K-6 students who remain in the district to neighboring districts on a tuition basis.

That brought out great frustration at Tuesday's board of control meeting in Duquesne, where members of the elected and state-appointed boards, residents and the president of the teachers union decried the lack of action and information coming from Harrisburg.

"That's not even professional for them to not notify the elected board and the community. That's a slap in the face to this community, especially the kids," said DeWayne Tucker, president of the elected board, which was expected to have been returned to power by now.

At last month's board of control meeting, chairman Francis Barnes explained that if the board did not request a hearing to protest being placed in preliminary financial recovery status, the next expected step was for Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis to make the status final and to appoint a chief recovery officer.

At that point, Mr. Barnes explained, the board of control, which has operated the district since the fall of 2000, would dissolve and the elected board would return to power.

On Sept. 26, the board of control notified the education department it would not request a hearing.

The education department is in a "holding pattern" concerning Duquesne, spokesman Tim Eller said Tuesday. He said there are no deadlines for action required under the legislation.

"It leaves us all in limbo," said Susan Sherman, president of the Duquesne Education Association, which is working without a contract. No negotiations are taking place while the board of control awaits the naming of a chief recovery officer.

Likewise, the board chose not to hold a hearing on a new application for a charter school filed by former elected school director Connie Lucas. The hearing was supposed to be held Tuesday but was cancelled at the last minute because the board of control decided to leave the matter for a chief recovery officer to handle.

Ms. Lucas was told that if the 45-day time frame for holding the hearing -- which expires Oct. 29 -- passes, she can appeal to the state charter appeals board.

Longtime board of control member Marlene Gary Hogan told elected board members that she shares their frustrations.

"The state of Pennsylvania has been no more forthcoming with myself and Dr. [Tricia] Gennari than you," Ms. Gary Hogan said. Ms. Gennari is the third member of the board of control.

"I have made my displeasure known to the state but it makes no impression on them. We are not on board with the way things are happening," Ms. Gary Hogan said.

Duquesne is one of four districts in the state specifically targeted under new legislation for financially distressed school districts. The others are Chester Upland, York and Harrisburg.

Since then, the state education secretary made the final decision to place Chester Upland in financial recovery status and has named a chief recovery officer who is in the process of coming up with a financial recovery plan for the district. York and Harrisburg have requested hearings.

Under the legislation, the secretary has five days after making the final status determination to name a chief recovery officer.

The elected board has 14 days to decide whether to work with the chief recovery officer. If not, the matter will go to Common Pleas Court, where a receiver would be appointed.

If the board accepts the chief recovery officer, the officer has 30 days to develop a financial recovery plan for the district. Once the plan is formulated, the elected board must decide if it will accept it. If so, it goes into effect immediately. If not, the issue heads to Common Pleas Court, where a receiver would be appointed to carry it out.

Mr. Andrews said the board of control is not seeking to remain in control in Duquesne, but must by law continue to run the district until a recovery officer is named.

"All we can do is react to the fact that we don't have a chief recovery officer and handle the business of the district."

education - neigh_south

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


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