15 October 2010

Talking York City School District

The York City School District has been in the news recently, and, generally, not for positive reasons. First came reports that all but one of the district's schools failed to meet the state's AYP requirements. Then came news that the school board fired Superintendent Sharon Miller, a firing that came with a $700,000 price tag (due to a provision in her contract). This all adds to the community-wide view that the city school district is overwhelmed with problems - vast numbers of poor students and disengaged parents; low staff morale; and tension between administration and the board and even among board members.

Warren Bulette, head of the York County Taxpayers Council and a high-profile critic of several different York County school districts, has thrown open the door on an idea that has been quietly discussed for years: merging the city school district with neighboring districts.

Bulette, in a letter to the editor to the York Daily Record/Sunday News, wrote the city school district has tried for years to reverse declining student performance with little success. He identified this as a countywide problem because all those students who don't graduate or who graduate ill-equipped for a decent job are more likely to drain government resources rather than add to them as a working, tax-paying citizen.

"The city is not going to prosper, nor is York County, unless York city students are better educated," he wrote. "The time has also come for the rest of the school districts to step up to the plate and actually help instead of making it look like they are concerned."

Consider consolidation, he pleaded.

"If the new consolidated organization is organized properly, overall student achievement will improve and the beleaguered taxpayer will benefit — a real win-win."

The Daily Record responded with an editorial - and it agreed.

"The district is just not working - and hasn't been for some time," stated the editorial that ran in the Sept. 28 paper. "... Just bringing in a new superintendent probably won't be the solution. No, we need something more dramatic and systemic."

The editorial called for York Suburban, Central York and West York to divide up the city district. The editorial acknowledged the idea might not be popular - in the city or the suburbs. (Can you say "understatement"?) It offered up - and shot down - some of the expected excuses that opponents might advance to claim consolidation "wouldn't work." It also suggested that consolidation would increase the already growing diversity of the suburban schools, and that would be a good thing.

It concluded: "Yes, Mr. Bullette, you're right. Suburbanites should step in and help the city. They should stop ridiculing and demeaning a struggling district, power up their smart boards and do something to improve the situation."

How long should a struggling school district be given to right itself? Can we as a community make an intentional decision to allow some kids to fail year after year? Is this not an option that should at least be discussed, constructively and sensitively?

- Dan Fink


Anonymous said...

True educational reform in PA would be to follow the example of Kentucky and move towards county based systems. This approach allows for streamlined administration (thus tremendous cost savings), allows for a much more equitable and just taxation system, promotes a highly specialized and indivualized approach to education, with magent schools directing growth in areas such as the sciences, arts, business, and so forth. The only sensible approach is wholesale reform of a damaged and broken state system. City school problems are only the tip of the educational iceberg

Anonymous said...

The smaller school-district set-up of York City and the rest of the York County school districts is advantageous to this type of plan. If we're going to talk evidence-based practicies, well, merging socioeconomic backgrounds in classrooms has proven to be a very successful practice for ALL involved. The fact that there are nine schools under City control, rather than more than 100 schools in larger urban districts, I think bodes well for a possible reallocations of student districting. In states with larger districting, 3 surrounding counties cannot well absorb 87,000 students...
Having been involved with school-closures in other school districts I know one emotional aspect can be the feelings associated with the history of a school. "How can we close down William Penn? That is our HISTORY!" But I think it is important to look forward, consider efficient use of resources, and consider the benefits our children will receive. Of course, York City School employees may have to look for new jobs; schools receiving students may become overcrowded. But the concept is a great one, and I think the logistics could be worked out.

Grace said...

Thanks for opening this important discussion. There is much at stake here on all sides. What we must keep in the center of our view during the discussion is what is best for each and every child in the York metropolitan area, rather than the interests of organizations or our own self-interest.

Right now there is an enormous gap in opportunity for city youth compared with youth in neighboring school districts. Based on research compiled by York Counts in the York Counts Indicators, the graduation rate for youth attending York City School District is 64% compared to 95-98% for the 3 neighboring school districts ('06-'07). The percentage of students in York City who score proficient or higher on standardized testing reaches only 25% and 29% respectively compared with 50-79% in the other school districts (11 graders, '05-'06 to '07-'08).

Why the disparity? Often York City school administrators or teachers get the blame, but it's not a fair comparison. The City School District faces a dense concentration of poverty, one-parent families and special needs children compared with the surrounding districts. For instance, 78% of children in the City School district qualify for free school lunches compared with 9.5% in York Suburban (2006). Another example is that 47.6% percent of city youth grow up in one-parent families compared with 17.7-18.7% in the surrounding communities (2000). So York Suburban, Central York and West York do not face the same challenges in educating the youth in their districts that City teachers and administrators must face. Whether York City school district is divided among the 3 surrounding districts or kids facing special challenges are divided more equitably between the 4 school districts, redistricting could be an effective way to improve the educational opportunity for youth growing up in the city.

But it is not only city kids who are losing out the way things are currently divided. York Suburban, Central York and West York have only 10-15% minority students compared with 75% in York City ('03-'04). Diversity and opportunity have always been core elements of our national fabric. For centuries immigrants have come to America looking for a chance to make it. Diversity in our community and nation continues to grow not lesson. Similarly, to succeed in the world's increasingly interconnected economy, engineers, business people, professors and physicians, to name a few, must develop skills to relate to people from different cultural and language backgrounds. Kids growing up in a suburban, white, middle class school miss out on the opportunity to learn to work with and value people from all different backgrounds. This is an essential skill set for success both in the United States and around the world.

For all of our children's sake, we need to reorganize schools in such a way that the challenges and blessings of poverty and diversity are more equally shared.

Gordy Zubrod

Patrick Fero said...

I've been advocating the same idea for the city itself. It's time to begin the consolidation of municipalities by splitting the city up into the surrounding, and much better off, townships.
Patrick Fero

Anonymous said...

I am a retired school teacher. I have taught in York City Schools for 23 years, retiring in 1989. Finally, what I have been advocating for years has hit the press. Needless to say, I am thrilled to finally realize that some folks can see the benefits of merging school districts, so that all kids have a fair chance, educationally, culturally, and socially; and that includes all children of our county, not just the city kids, who have much to contribute, given the opportunity.

Margaret L. Hughes

Margaret L. Hughes said...

I am a retired teacher in the City schools of York. I taught for 23 years retiring in 1989. For years I have been advocating a merging of York City Schools with those in the County. Finally, educators and others are seeing the value of joining districts.

All children deserve the opportunity to share with others their cultural heritage, and all have much to learn from each other, educationally, socially, and culturally.

I am encouraged that finally a bright new day may be dawning in York County for our children.