For schools on the brink, Pa. mulling more ways to help

    The Wolf administration is reconsidering the way Pennsylvania helps school districts with rocky finances.

    Four of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts – including Chester-Upland in Delaware County — have such severe problems that the state has put them on financial recovery status, appointing an outside officer to balance the books.

    Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, said Harrisburg City School District, in financial recovery since late 2012, had seen uneven progress — greater financial stability but not the same pace when it comes to student learning.

    “It seems like these recovery officers were appointed and then kind of left on their own without a lot of accountability to the state or, more importantly, to the residents,” said Teplitz during a Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing on education.

    Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said he envisions more state oversight of school districts in recovery, with greater involvement in everything from finances and school governance to instruction.

    “We know we do pretty well with financial audits,” said Rivera. “We’ve never really dug deep and offered curriculum audits to school districts.”

    The hands-on approach will also extend to teachers unions, Rivera assured lawmakers.

    “It’s a shared effort. The school district didn’t get here on its own and everyone’s going to be made — or expected, I should say — to step up and own improvement of the school district,” Rivera said. “Everyone, in cases, will be asked to make sacrifices.”

    Duquesne City in Allegheny County and York City in York County also are in recovery status

    Four other school districts are on the state’s financial watch list: Aliquippa in Beaver County; Reading in Berks County; Steelton-Highspire in Dauphin County; and Wilkinsburg Borough in Allegheny County.

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