No Duquesne City Students in Baldwin-Whitehall ... at Least for Now
B-W officials reject a voluntary acceptance of Duquesne students.
Baldwin-Whitehall School District officials will not voluntarily accept students from the Duquesne City School District—a decision that B-W Superintendent Dr. Randal A. Lutz made known at Wednesday night's B-W School Board meeting.
But that's not to say that Duquesne City students couldn't end up in Baldwin-Whitehall's public schools one day.
Duquesne students in grades 7 through 12 are currently enrolled in the nearby West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny school districts thanks to mandates handed down by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. And should future legislation occur that causes a similar mandate for Duquesne students in kindergarten through sixth grade, those K-6 students would be sent out-of-district, as well, including, perhaps, to Baldwin-Whitehall.
Dr. Paul B. Long, the chief recovery officer for the Duquesne City School District, prefers for school districts to accept Duquesne students voluntarily, and he sent a letter to the Baldwin-Whitehall superintendent in February asking if B-W would be interested in just that.
Baldwin-Whitehall was offered approximately $8,000 in tuition per Duquesne student per year, but on Wednesday, Lutz said that it is against B-W School District policy to accept students on a tuition basis.
"Additionally," Lutz said, "current state law does not provide for the acceptance of students, or the transfer of students, between districts. So, at this point, the district is unable to participate in the Duquesne recovery plan, and that will be the message that we will send back to Dr. Long."
No B-W board member commented on the Duquesne topic during Wednesday's meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, B-W solicitor Ed Lawrence supported Lutz's assertion that it would take new legislative action for Duquesne's K-6 students to end up out of Duquesne, as its 7-12 students are.
"There were laws passed by the legislature that provided for that," Lawrence said of the older students' placement. "It provided specifically that those students would transfer to those specific school districts."
"Financially, the (Duquesne) school district is enduring a depressed local tax base and a stagnant revenue budget," Long's Duquesne recovery plan states. "Moreover, the district faces the statewide challenges of escalating contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System and increasing medical benefit expenses. Also, both the professional staff and support staff collective bargaining agreements are currently up for renegotiation."
State Secretary of Education Ronald J. Tomalis declared the Duquesne School District to be in financial recovery status in November, eventually leading to the appointment of Long as Duquesne's chief recovery officer and the February publishing of Long's recovery plan.
Lawrence called the $8,000 per student offer "low-balling it, really, a lot."
"It would be less than the cost of educating the kids," Lawrence said.
In an earlier interview, Lutz told Patch that the current cost of educating an elementary student in Baldwin-Whitehall is around $9,500 per year. He also said that that cost could rise if the district ends up with an influx of underachieving students since those students would need extra attention and remediation. (The Duquesne City School District has faired very poorly in recent years on the state's standardized exams.)
"I think it's the best plan that they (the state) could come up with given circumstances because they're circumstances that are just beyond anyone's control," Lutz said of Duquesne's K-6 students possibly going out-of-district. "And what's so sad is that there's about 350 children that need a place to get an adequate education.
"I liken it to years ago when the (Baldwin-Whitehall) district was dealing with a lot of ESL (English-as-a-second-language) students. And you had the 'lost boys' from the Sudan. You've heard that story about the lost boys because no one wanted them. And I kind of feel the same thing about Duquesne because here they are as an elementary entity that is crying out for someone to take these kids.
"How do we address a school district that is not meeting with success? It is very sad. There are no easy answers out there."
But Lutz said that he has too many questions to feel comfortable with volunteering Baldwin-Whitehall as a place for the Duquesne students to come to.
"While it may be what's best for Duquesne, I just have great concerns about it from a Baldwin-Whitehall School District point of view."
Among Lutz's concerns are increasing class sizes in Baldwin-Whitehall, especially at W.R. Paynter Elementary School, which is the closest school in physical distance to Duquesne; transportation strategy; how Duquesne students' standardized test scores will be calculated; and what Duquesne's special needs students' funding would be.
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch on Thursday for more news from Wednesday night's school board meeting.
Read through other Baldwin-Whitehall School Board items here.
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