Stealing Your Right to Appeal – Tortured Logic in York Schools Takeover


Q: When can’t you take a robber to court for stealing your stuff?

A: When the robber steals your ability to appeal.

Such is the tortured logic being used by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against one of its own public school districts.

Last week, a judge ruled that the state was entitled to take over York City Schools from taxpayers.

The district filed an appeal, which the state is trying to strike down.

None of that is surprising. But the justification the state Department of Education is using to overturn this appeal is something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Get this! When the state was granted control of York Schools, the district lost the ability to appeal unless that appeal was approved by the state.

So goes a motion filed by the state in York County Court.

When the judge allowed the district to go into receivership, control of almost all functions except taxation went to the Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley.

“Consequently, at the time that he filed the notice of appeal, the (school district) solicitor had no lawful authority to appeal the order on behalf of the district,” the state argues.

And Meckley did not approve the appeal to unseat himself.

That this is ridiculous should need no explanation. There can be no justice when wronged parties lose the ability to petition for a redress of grievances in a court of law.

If the court rules for the state, one could easily imagine a murderer getting off because his victim was unavailable to testify. Or a thief might complain that the original owner has no right to sue because he no longer owns the item in question.

But what’s obvious to you and me is sometimes obscure to judges.

The state also accuses York School Directors of violating the state’s open meeting “Sunshine” laws by voting to appeal the decision in a closed meeting.

The school board should have voted to authorize the appeal during an open meeting in full view of the public, the state alleges.

While the state’s first objection is absurd, this one is simply incorrect. School boards are – in fact – allowed to vote behind closed doors in executive sessions for various reasons including litigation matters. School boards are given this right because if they had to discuss legal matters publicly, they could easily endanger their cases.

A judge is expected to rule on the state’s motion Tuesday.

It’s just another sad page in a history of governmental overreach and circular logic in York, Pennsylvania.

First, outgoing Governor Tom Corbett slashes $1 billion from education funding, taking the lion’s share from impoverished districts like York that need it the most. For York Schools that was an $8.4 million cut – over 15% of the district’s budget.

Then when York can’t cope with the loss of funding nor does it have the tax base to make up the difference, the state labels the district a failure.

So the state swoops in to save the day – not with the money the district desperately needs – but with a bureaucrat to come up with a recovery plan: Meckley.

And what a plan it is! Let’s try these few targeted reforms, tighten our belts and if that doesn’t work, give the entire district over to a charter school operator.

How will that help?

It’s funny, but no one ever answers that question. They just assume it makes sense.

It doesn’t.

Unfortunately, the school board approved this plan in 2013, but it was having second thoughts. Thus the bid by the state Department of Education to take it over and let Meckley continue with his privatization scheme.

Let’s hope the court doesn’t fall for the Mad Hatter defense against appeal.

Even if the judge allows the appeal to move forward, the court still needs to decide who controls York Schools in the meantime.

One would assume it should be the school board.

That seems to be a no brainer.

Obviously the state shouldn’t be in control of York Schools until the appeals process is completed.

Obviously Meckley shouldn’t be able to move forward with charterizing the district until his legal right to do so has been firmly established.

But in York, a “no brainer” no longer means something obvious – it often means people with no brains get to make the decisions.

The district’s appeal isn’t the only one.

Attorneys for the district’s two employees’ unions also filed appeals mere hours after the court decision allowing the state takeover.

The matter should be tied up in court for a while. However, this move by the state and the question of who controls York in the meantime may make the court’s other actions irrelevant.

The Corbett administration – which backs the privatization of York – has only a few weeks left before Governor-elect Tom Wolf takes office on Jan. 20.

Wolf has said he is not in favor of privatizing the district. In fact, he asked the Corbett administration to hold off on the state takeover until the Gov.-elect takes office.

He was ignored.

One could easily read this motion to strike the school district’s appeal and remain in control of the district as a last ditch effort to push through a charterization scheme that no one else seems to want.

The school board is against it. The parents are against it. The students are against it. The teachers are against it. Even many York County Commissioners such as President Steve Chronister – a Republican – are against it.

The people have spoken. Unfortunately, the lame duck Corbett administration doesn’t care.

When Wolf takes office, he could easily direct the state Department of Education to drop the whole matter, return control of York Schools to its duly-elected school board and create a recovery plan that makes sense.

But if this matter is settled before he takes office, his power to intervene becomes questionable.

So once again in York, the rule of the people hangs by a thread.

Will it hold for just a few more weeks?


-This article was also published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

-Please sign the petition from York residents asking the PA Department of Education drop the petition for receivership, replace David Meckley as Chief Recovery Officer, and to approve a new recovery plan that does not include turning the school district over to charter schools.

-Feel free to use the following memes created by madly talented BAT Sue Goncarovs to help spread awareness of the injustice unfolding in York:



Merry Christmas. We’re Stealing Your Schools.


Merry Christmas. We’re stealing your schools.

That’s the message from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to York City School residents Friday.

Gimme’ that local control!

A judge ruled the district is now under direction of its Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley instead of its duly elected school board.


Meckley wanted the board to approve a plan to convert all district schools into charters run by Florida-based operator Charter Schools USA. This would make York the only all charter district in the entire state.

The agreement was made in secret by Meckley and details weren’t forthcoming before the board was asked to make a decision.

The board just couldn’t make up its mind fast enough. Members tabled it – they might even have refused it if given enough time to think!

So now Meckley will just make the conversion, himself. Dictatorship is so much easier than Democracy!

What else?

The school board reached an agreement with the teachers union that was simply too fair. How dare school directors agree to pay educators a fair wage when the recovery plan clearly indicated slave wages! Sure, district finances had improved, but… UNIONS!

The district could spend some of its $3 million surplus on teachers or engage in a possible $120 million contract with Charter Schools USA. Fiscal responsibility, people!

The district went back and rescinded its controversial teachers contract when the state initiated a petition to take over the district, but it was too late. School directors were acting like they were actually in control. We can’t have that. It might give people the idea that they are in charge! Hilarious!

How’d we get here?


Back in 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett decided to slash public school budgets by $1 billion. Most of this came from the poorest schools since they relied more on state funding to keep operations going.

For York Schools that was an $8.4 million cut – over 15% of the district’s budget. To cope, the district cut the arts, student services, increased class sizes, etc. So it was labeled a “failure” simply because it couldn’t survive the funding cuts deemed necessary by the state.

Enter Meckley.

The state declared York City School District in “moderate financial recovery” in 2012 and appointed Meckley to create a financial recovery plan. That plan, adopted in summer 2013, laid out a path for internal reform but called for city schools to be turned into charters, run by an outside operator, if internal reform didn’t work out.

What’s that have to do with Friday’s ruling?


York County Judge Stephen Linebaugh tried to preserve the veneer of Democracy by defining the issue as narrowly as possible. He said it didn’t matter what the state would do once it had control of the district. He could only rule against a state takeover if it could be proven to be “arbitrary, capricious and wholly irrelevant to restoring the district to financial stability.”

In other words, if the district was in financial recovery and it agreed to a recovery plan (as it did), the only issue was whether it was following that plan – not whether the plan was any good or not, and not if the district had a right to refine that plan.

So apparently it is perfectly legal in Pennsylvania to beat someone up and demand a week’s worth of their lunch money – and if they don’t pay, you can sue them in court for welching on a contract!

Judge Linebaugh’s decision is expected to be appealed. This would cause an automatic stay to be put in place. But the state department of education would almost definitely try to have that stay lifted. So that issue will ultimately be up to the courts again.

Is the recovery plan any good?

Of course not!

If you’re problem is you don’t have enough funding, how do you improve that by giving over control of your district to someone whose goal is to make it turn a profit!?

They’ll reduce spending on services for children and increase administrative costs while earmarking a large portion of taxpayer money to boost the bottom line. That’s what for-profit charter operators do! It’s no secret!

Charter Schools USA – the operator waiting to take over York – is no exception.

A Florida League of Women Voters report found that a charter school operated by the company in the Sunshine State spent almost as much on fees and leases to itself and an affiliated company as it did on classroom instruction in 2011.

Another Charter Schools USA school in Indiana came under fire for keeping more than $6 million of “misappropriated” Indiana state funds for 1,800 students who never enrolled in its schools, according to an Indiana Public Media report.

CEO of Charter Schools USA Jonathan Hage has made himself filthy rich by doing the same thing to district-after-district throughout the country.

He even brags about it!

Take for instance his yacht. Yes, I said yacht. He brazenly named it “‘Fishin’ 4 Schools” after where he gets his cash.

To pay for it, he found a new revenue stream that’s just this side of legal. Charter Schools USA is the largest seller of charter school debt in the country. “It will sell $100 million worth of bonds this year, Hage says. … The bonds come with tax-exempt status because they are technically held by the nonprofit founding boards that oversee the schools.” Over a three-year period, the company made closer to $200 million.

So if you believe Meckley – the guy tasked with writing a recovery plan for York City Schools – bettering the district’s financial predicament means giving it to a company engaging in the same kinds of risky monetary practices that crashed our economy not even a decade ago. Run up debt, then sell it to others tax free! That’s not exactly a prescription for sound fiscal management.

Wait a minute. This takeover is being orchestrated by the Corbett administration. Isn’t he a lame duck? Won’t he be out of office in a few weeks? What about incoming Gov. Tom Wolf? Is there anything he can do about it?

Good questions.

Wolf has come out against turning York into an all-charter district. He even asked the Corbett administration to hold off until the governor elect takes office on Jan. 20.

While no comment was made to the press from Corbett, actions speak louder than words. Once again, he could give a crap about what’s best for schools.

Wolf has yet to comment on the takeover, himself, but his spokesman Jeff Sheridan had this to say:

“Gov.-elect Wolf knows that schools across Pennsylvania have been starved for resources over the last four years and our children are being put at a disadvantage. As a result, districts like York have been forced to the brink of financial collapse. Gov.-elect Wolf will make education his top priority by working to restore funding cuts and providing adequate resources so school districts can deliver on the promise of a high-quality public education for all Pennsylvanians.”

It’s unclear at this time exactly what Wolf will be able to do once he takes office if the takeover is complete.

Hopefully, the matter can stay tied up in the courts for a few weeks. Then Wolf may be able to direct the state to drop the matter and take a more logical course.

Cynics often say there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to educational matters. And history has done a lot to justify that position.

Gov. Wolf may have a chance to demonstrate exactly what that ideological difference is – if it exists at all – in coming weeks.

Right now, it’s all up to the speed and fairness of our courts.

In the meantime, Christmas cards in York, Pennsylvania, should contain the following resolution:

Goodnight and good luck.

This article has also been published in the LA Progressive and Badass Teachers Association Blog.