Merry Christmas. We’re Stealing Your Schools.

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Merry Christmas. We’re stealing your schools.

That’s the message from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to York City School residents Friday.

Gimme’ that local control!

A judge ruled the district is now under direction of its Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley instead of its duly elected school board.

Why?

Meckley wanted the board to approve a plan to convert all district schools into charters run by Florida-based operator Charter Schools USA. This would make York the only all charter district in the entire state.

The agreement was made in secret by Meckley and details weren’t forthcoming before the board was asked to make a decision.

The board just couldn’t make up its mind fast enough. Members tabled it – they might even have refused it if given enough time to think!

So now Meckley will just make the conversion, himself. Dictatorship is so much easier than Democracy!

What else?

The school board reached an agreement with the teachers union that was simply too fair. How dare school directors agree to pay educators a fair wage when the recovery plan clearly indicated slave wages! Sure, district finances had improved, but… UNIONS!

The district could spend some of its $3 million surplus on teachers or engage in a possible $120 million contract with Charter Schools USA. Fiscal responsibility, people!

The district went back and rescinded its controversial teachers contract when the state initiated a petition to take over the district, but it was too late. School directors were acting like they were actually in control. We can’t have that. It might give people the idea that they are in charge! Hilarious!

How’d we get here?

Simple.

Back in 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett decided to slash public school budgets by $1 billion. Most of this came from the poorest schools since they relied more on state funding to keep operations going.

For York Schools that was an $8.4 million cut – over 15% of the district’s budget. To cope, the district cut the arts, student services, increased class sizes, etc. So it was labeled a “failure” simply because it couldn’t survive the funding cuts deemed necessary by the state.

Enter Meckley.

The state declared York City School District in “moderate financial recovery” in 2012 and appointed Meckley to create a financial recovery plan. That plan, adopted in summer 2013, laid out a path for internal reform but called for city schools to be turned into charters, run by an outside operator, if internal reform didn’t work out.

What’s that have to do with Friday’s ruling?

Plenty.

York County Judge Stephen Linebaugh tried to preserve the veneer of Democracy by defining the issue as narrowly as possible. He said it didn’t matter what the state would do once it had control of the district. He could only rule against a state takeover if it could be proven to be “arbitrary, capricious and wholly irrelevant to restoring the district to financial stability.”

In other words, if the district was in financial recovery and it agreed to a recovery plan (as it did), the only issue was whether it was following that plan – not whether the plan was any good or not, and not if the district had a right to refine that plan.

So apparently it is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania to beat someone up and demand a week’s worth of their lunch money – and if they don’t pay, you can sue them in court for welching on a contract!

Judge Linebaugh’s decision is expected to be appealed. This would cause an automatic stay to be put in place. But the state department of education would almost definitely try to have that stay lifted. So that issue will ultimately be up to the courts again.

Is the recovery plan any good?

Of course not!

If you’re problem is you don’t have enough funding, how do you improve that by giving over control of your district to someone whose goal is to make it turn a profit!?

They’ll reduce spending on services for children and increase administrative costs while earmarking a large portion of taxpayer money to boost the bottom line. That’s what for-profit charter operators do! It’s no secret!

Charter Schools USA – the operator waiting to take over York – is no exception.

A Florida League of Women Voters report found that a charter school operated by the company in the Sunshine State spent almost as much on fees and leases to itself and an affiliated company as it did on classroom instruction in 2011.

Another Charter Schools USA school in Indiana came under fire for keeping more than $6 million of “misappropriated” Indiana state funds for 1,800 students who never enrolled in its schools, according to an Indiana Public Media report.

CEO of Charter Schools USA Jonathan Hage has made himself filthy rich by doing the same thing to district-after-district throughout the country.

He even brags about it!

Take for instance his yacht. Yes, I said yacht. He brazenly named it “‘Fishin’ 4 Schools” after where he gets his cash.

To pay for it, he found a new revenue stream that’s just this side of legal. Charter Schools USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.” Over a three-year period, the company made closer to $200 million.

So if you believe Meckley – the guy tasked with writing a recovery plan for York City Schools – bettering the district’s financial predicament means giving it to a company engaging in the same kinds of risky monetary practices that crashed our economy not even a decade ago. Run up debt, then sell it to others tax free! That’s not exactly a prescription for sound fiscal management.

Wait a minute. This takeover is being orchestrated by the Corbett administration. Isn’t he a lame duck? Won’t he be out of office in a few weeks? What about incoming Gov. Tom Wolf? Is there anything he can do about it?

Good questions.

Wolf has come out against turning York into an all-charter district. He even asked the Corbett administration to hold off until the governor elect takes office on Jan. 20.

While no comment was made to the press from Corbett, actions speak louder than words. Once again, he could give a crap about what’s best for schools.

Wolf has yet to comment on the takeover, himself, but his spokesman Jeff Sheridan had this to say:

“Gov.-elect Wolf knows that schools across Pennsylvania have been starved for resources over the last four years and our children are being put at a disadvantage. As a result, districts like York have been forced to the brink of financial collapse. Gov.-elect Wolf will make education his top priority by working to restore funding cuts and providing adequate resources so school districts can deliver on the promise of a high-quality public education for all Pennsylvanians.”

It’s unclear at this time exactly what Wolf will be able to do once he takes office if the takeover is complete.

Hopefully, the matter can stay tied up in the courts for a few weeks. Then Wolf may be able to direct the state to drop the matter and take a more logical course.

Cynics often say there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to educational matters. And history has done a lot to justify that position.

Gov. Wolf may have a chance to demonstrate exactly what that ideological difference is – if it exists at all – in coming weeks.

Right now, it’s all up to the speed and fairness of our courts.

In the meantime, Christmas cards in York, Pennsylvania, should contain the following resolution:

Goodnight and good luck.


This article has also been published in the LA Progressive and Badass Teachers Association Blog.

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10 thoughts on “Merry Christmas. We’re Stealing Your Schools.

  1. It’ll stay tied up in the courts for sure. Can’t wait to see what a “logical course” looks like. I’m sure it will entail some kind of taxpayer bailout.

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  2. The nation is not yet paying attention, but this is a step in the right direction. Parents and taxpayers are ignorant to what is happening. Many teachers are ignorant, or in denial. Either way, the momentum is building. Thank you for sounding this alarm. The people of this nation are still asleep at the wheel. They do not understand what the problem is with “choice.”

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  3. You know, one more point – supposedly one of the excuses for charter schools is to offer a “choice.” If charters (especially one charter corporation) takes over an entire district, where is the choice? Parents are forced to send their children to a corporate charter? Are school districts to be divied up among different local corporate monopolies, the way broadband services are? Is that what I am reading here? Is the “choice” rationale being abandoned?

    On the other hand, if they take over the entire district, they can’t use the public schools as a dumping ground for their “low performing” students.

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