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A handful of York City School District students and staff members protested Friday in front of the York County Judicial Center following a judge's decision to grant a receivership for the district. (Photo: Bil Bowden/The York Dispatch)

In Pennsylvania, Judge Paves Way for Private Takeover of Public School District

Education analyst says judge's decision ushers in 'the death of local control and democracy in York City'

Deirdre Fulton

Control of the struggling York City School District in Pennsylvania has been handed over to the state, effectively paving the way for public education in that county to be provided exclusively by a private company.

State officials had previously said that, if approved for a receivership (as a state takeover is called), they would bring in Charter Schools USA, an 'education management company' based in Florida, to operate the district.

According to the York Dispatch:

The decision of President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh gives all but taxing power to a Spring Garden Township man who has steered the district's financial recovery process for two years.

David Meckley, who has an extensive business background, has served as the district's chief recovery officer for two years. His tenure started after the state placed York City in moderate financial recovery status.

...For the past several months, Meckley has advocated for a full conversion of the district's eight schools to operation by a for-profit charter company called Charter Schools USA.

The Dispatch reports that district teachers, parents, and students have been vigorously opposed to the plan. Following the judge's ruling on Friday, a group of about 20 students and staffers protested outside the York County Judicial Center.

In a statement, the state's largest school employee union said Linebaugh's decision "ignores the will of the community, puts students’ education at risk, and paves the way for a corporate takeover of the city’s schools."

"The newly appointed receiver’s charter school plan is just as troubling as the last-minute power grab," said Michael Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. "There’s no real plan at all for more than 1,000 of the school district’s students with special needs. Apparently, they think these students should just enroll in cyber programs if they want to stay in district-operated schools or if a charter school provider can’t educate them. That is just astonishing."

The PSEA and other organizations said would appeal the judge's decision; the York County School District itself filed an appeal Friday. 

"Be it noted that today’s education 'reformers' don’t much care for democracy," educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch wrote at her blog. "They would rather turn public schools over to a for-profit corporation that siphons off 20 percent in management fees and pays itself outlandish rental fees rather than trust parents and local citizens to do what’s best for their children."

"Choice?" she continued. "There will be no 'choice' for the families of York City. Their children will have to attend a charter school whose headquarters are in Florida. Yes, it is the death of local control and democracy in York City."

Ravitch notes that "[t]his is what we would expect from the outgoing Corbett administration, which actively promoted privatization." But it begs the question: "What will the new Tom Wolf administration do?"

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