Arguably, the City of York’s school system is in a much harsher situation than we are. However, they are facing many of the same problems. They, at least, are looking at options to change direction, fix both their financial crisis and improve academic performance. Here are the three options being explored.
Transformation: York City School District is working to create a plan, drafted along with the teachers’ union, to restructure salaries and convert its schools to magnet schools. Obviously, we are too small a district to transform our buildings into magnet schools, but the in-house model should be the one Octorara tries first. I believe success could be achieved within the district without making drastic moves, and I believe encouraging greater community involvement is the key.
Charter option: Another option on the table is converting the whole district into a nonprofit community charter school. York received a presentation on the Renaissance Model of charter conversions, used in Philadelphia. Under this model, the district would essentially just be a shell to levy taxes, and provide oversight that the charter is living up to performance standards. By using the district’s own buildings, there could be savings that they don’t get when the district is paying charter tuition to its existing charter schools.
This option also solves many of the problem the board states it has when trying to control spending. Unfunded mandates will go away. The school district can more easily adopt education reforms, and can themselves innovate. The teacher’s union stranglehold on the district will be broken.
Consolidation: The most drastic option would be consolidating with neighboring districts. This would be a very long process, and the other districts would have to take on Octorara’s debt.
What is striking is that York City School District seems to encourage a very high level of engagement from parents, taxpayers, local officials, and teachers. In contrast, Octorara seems to be happy with people who want to volunteer time, energy, and money within the structure they desire involvement, but less accepting on topics of budget adoption, contracts, curriculum, and fiscal planning and oversight.