Author’s Note: This story was originally posted to the Rick Smith Show, where I am working as a producer and Capitol correspondent. Show some support by travelling over to the Rick Smith Show website, where we’ll have continuing coverage on the York School District take over.
On Wednesday evening, dozens of community members from the York School District attended a rally at the Bethlehem Baptist Church concerning the private charter takeover of the district. The ire of the meeting surrounded the York County Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization consisting of local business interests, and David Meckley, the Corbett appointed Chief Recovery Officer. Throughout the meeting, there was one outstanding message coming from school board members, community leaders and York school teachers aimed at Governor Tom Wolf: Remove David Meckley from his position as the CRO and replace him with someone who has respect for the York community.
Others in the crowd included members from Philadelphia based Action United and PCAPS (Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools). When asked about the importance of attending this rally in south central Pennsylvania and showing solidarity for teachers, students and community members in the York School District, retired Philadelphia public school teacher Ron Whitehorne said “what’s going on in York in outrageous from two standpoints. One, the complete contempt for local control, and secondly, what ever happened to school choice?” Whitehorne goes on to say “here, they’re turning the whole school district over to a for-profit charter company. What if you want to send your kid to a regular public school? You no longer have the opportunity.”
As Colleen Kennedy points out for The P.H.L., the York County Community Foundation lobbied, then, Governor Tom Corbett for David Meckley to be appointed to the position in December 2012, and then had 90 days to come up with a recovery plan for the school district. Before his appointment, Meckley was a member of YorkCounts Education Work Group, who was a co-sponsor of the charter school plan that was published by the York County Community Foundation. The report that was published by the business controlled nonprofit organization planned for a complete charter takeover of the York School District.
At the end of last year under Governor Corbett, the Department of Education petitioned that state to put the school district in the hands of the state and a Commonwealth Court judge agreed with them. The decision would give Meckley full control of the school district until December 2017, and he was poised to turn the whole entire school district into the control of for-profit chartered interests, which would make it the first of it’s kind in the country. However, the school district filed an appeal of the receivership in early January and the judge that granted Meckley receivership also granted the school district an appeal to the Department of Education’s petition. This will allow the York School Board to retain control of the district until a court decision is made.
At last night’s rally, the school board’s president Margie Orr, vice president Mike Miller and member Jay Sawyer all spoke out against the charterization of the school district. Eighty-Four percent of the students who attend York City schools are living in poverty, but that did not stop school board vice president Mike Miller from explaining that the students who attend the city schools now have more resources and programs than those when he attended the city schools. When speaking about Meckley’s “reform plan,” Miller said that Meckley’s plan does not take into account the poverty situation in the school, and went on to claim that in his first meeting with David Meckley, Meckley stated that at least three of the schools will be charter schools.
School board member Jay Sawyer explained that “this is not a York issue, this is a state issue,” and that “our children are to be represented by us. Not the state. Not businessmen.” Sawyer went to explain that with the help of local organizations like the YMCA, community members and York College, students are able to have breakfast, lunch and dinner provided in the school district, which will expand to the high school.
One speaker, Sandra Thompson, a local attorney who is with the York NAACP, explained that for two years that the community and the school board have been left in the dark with Meckley holding backroom negotiations. In the short-term, Thompson goes on to say that “Meckley must go” if he is not following Wolf’s tone. Lifelong York City resident and retired 27 year technician for the city’s waste water treatment plant, Stanley Sexton echoed those same sentiments because the CRO has not gone with the will of the people, who have held rallies in support of the school district and voted on this issue. When asked about why the schools should stay public and out of the hands of education profiteers, he said “you wouldn’t have all the extra-curricular things you have. Charters are strictly for profit. A lot of the things [the public schools would have] like band and theatre programs, all of those things will be gone.”
York County residents and school board members are poised to fight this until the bitter end, and if the new administration would like to take control of this issue, the message is clear. If Governor Wolf keeps the York community in his heart and mind, then he must remove David Meckley from his receivership position to restore trust in the state and local government.