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Corbett Considers Financial Recovery Measure For Schools

Legislation intended to revitalize and possibly restructure some financially-ailing school districts in the commonwealth is sitting on the governor's desk. An administration spokeswoman said discussions continue as to whether Governor Corbett will sign HB 1307, the Financial Recovery Legislation for Schools.

Under the measure, the state Department of Education could declare a maximum of nine school districts at any one time as moderately or severely distressed. Currently four districts in the state are designated as distressed: the Duquesne, Harrisburg, York and Chester-Upland school districts. The education secretary would appoint a chief recovery officer to work with the school boards and administrators to develop a recovery plan.

"In terms of Duquesne, they're still trying to figure out how it's directly going to impact them," said Jamie Baxter, director of legislative policy for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) which provides services to all school districts in the county except Pittsburgh Public Schools.

HB 1307 includes provisions specific to the Duquesne district, including removing the cap of 165 students permitted to be sent to the East Allegheny and West Mifflin school districts. That was the limit established five year ago by legislation to allow for Duquesne high school students to be sent to East Allegheny and West Mifflin. That amendment was needed to allow for Duquesne's 7th and 8th graders to attend the other districts starting in the fall. Duquesne would receive another $2.5 million from the state, but most of that would be used to pay East Allegheny and West Mifflin for accepting the Duquesne students.

The bill could possibly allow for Duquesne's elementary students to be sent to other districts, but Baxter doesn't believe the legislation will lead to the end of the Duquesne district.

"I think its focus is having the Department of Education provide the resources and interest-free loans and guidance, to not close, to keep their doors open, to provide a high quality education," Baxter said, "to do all the things that they desperately want to do in Duquesne, they just lack the resources to do that."

Baxter said she does not believe that any other school district in Allegheny County will be declared financially distressed. She added that there is concern about a loss of local control at Duquesne and other distressed districts, and the AIU wants to make sure the education department is working with school board members.

"So we're keeping an eye on it," Baxter said. "We want to make sure they keep their local control because they [local officials] know what's best for the community and the students."