York teachers stressed about charter conversion

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YORK, Pa. (AP) — The York City School District will, quite possibly, lose one of its three speech-language pathologists next year.

As much as she loves the students, Jessica Hoover said she cannot compromise her values to work for a charter-school company that pockets a profit.

"I will be looking for a new job," Hoover said Sunday. "I do not want to be involved in a for-profit charter. I don't think that they're in it for the students. I think they're in it for the money, and I don't want to be a part of that."

She is not alone. A York County judge's ruling Friday paves the way for a state appointee to follow through with his plan, unveiled in November, to convert the district to charter schools operated by a for-profit company called Charter Schools USA.

An appeal by district attorneys, also filed Friday, could slow that process. But for district employees and teachers like Kimberly Bolt, the clock is ticking louder and louder.

"I feel like I'm kind of getting pushed into the corner," said Bolt, who's taught in the district for 10 years. "I have an incredibly strong sense of loyalty to my kids. I do not want to leave them mid-year. But then again, I still have mortgages and bills and my family that I have to provide for."

If Charter Schools USA signs a contract to operate York City schools, the company would become the direct employer of most district staff.

For now, all talk of compensation levels is speculative, as the company has not released details of its plan for York City. Many expect, however, that wages will decrease if the company takes over.

Hoover said she's known for several years the day might come when she'd have to go on the hunt for a new job. After Friday's ruling, Hoover said she can wait no longer.

"I love the kids," she said. "I can't imagine working in another district, although that is very possibly my reality."

Jean-Pierre Larue has two causes for concern. He's the parent of a district student, and he's employed by the district as a personal care assistant at Devers K-8.

"Do I start looking for another job?" he said.

As for his daughter, Larue said he wants her to get "the best quality education possible."

If the district is converted to charter schools, Larue said he's not confident he'll have any good options.

The decision of President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh gives everything but taxing power to David Meckley, a Spring Garden Township businessman who has steered the district's financial recovery process for two years. His tenure started after the state placed York City in moderate financial recovery status.

Attorney Marc Tarlow, representing the district, said he filed an appeal to Linebaugh's decision on Friday morning. The district is reviewing the decision and preparing for the appeal process, which could take a few months if it's not expedited through the court system, Tarlow said.

Meckley has not responded to repeated calls for comment since Friday's ruling.

A spokesman for the state Department of Education said Friday that Meckley can move forward as receiver — and, therefore, sign a contract with Charter Schools USA — unless a stay is granted in the court system.

Friday's ruling felt "as if somebody in my family had passed away," said Jeanne Lippy, a district teacher for 35 years.

"I was sitting in my living room crying because I know that the people coming in are not going to have the love for the kids like the people that I work with do," Lippy said.

In her second year as a York City teacher, Becky Ort said she's trying to remain hopeful about the district's future.

"I'm hoping that the appeals keep it in the courts long enough that (Gov.-elect Tom) Wolf gets in office and does something," said Ort, who teaches at Hannah Penn K-8.

Wolf, who has said he disagrees with the charter conversion plan, will take office Jan. 20.

"Regardless of what the outcome was in the courts, we as teachers still have an obligation to the students," Ort said. "Fulfilling that right now is the first thing on my mind."

Bolt, a teacher in the district's Cornerstone intervention program, said she's also placed her hope in Wolf.

"I know that Wolf can't reverse receivership. But at the very least I'm hoping he can appoint someone that is a little bit more friendly to the idea of keeping the public school system for York City," she said. "At the very best, I'm hoping that Wolf kind of swoops in and makes the problem go away."

Lippy, a third-grade teacher at Goode K-8, said she'd like to teach another five or six years, but she'll probably retire early. She said she feels bad for teachers with 20 or 25 years of experience, who can't retire yet but whose credentials would make them less-attractive job candidates to other cash-strapped districts.

"Those teachers that have 20, 25 years, I don't know that they can stay in teaching," Lippy said. "So it's the end of their career."

One of those teachers is Julie Labat Hershey, a first-grade teacher at Devers K-8. With a master's degree and 24 years of teaching experience, Hershey said she knows she'll have a tough time landing a job in another district willing to pay for those credentials.

Reluctantly, she's started kicking around ideas for a career change.

"A teacher is not just my job or my career. It's who I am. And being a teacher in the city is who I am," she said.

Hershey said she considers herself luckier than some of her colleagues who depend on a single income, or couples who both work for the district.

"They're in a much more difficult situation than I'm in," she said.

An exodus of teachers and staff has already begun, according to Lynette Czuday-Fink, a guidance counselor at William Penn Senior High School.

"The instability is causing the great (employees) to leave," she said.

Czuday-Fink said she's worried some students will begin to unravel and teachers will struggle to keep them focused on education through June, "when they don't even know what kind of a school they're going to be back to in August."

Still, Czuday-Fink said she's holding on to hope.

"I was raised to believe that the right wins in the end," she said. "Nothing about this situation seems right."




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