Is anyone in charge at Allentown School District?
It’s getting harder and harder to have faith in the leadership of the Allentown School District. The district showed its desperation about six weeks ago by balancing its budget with the assumption that charter schools would voluntarily accept less than they are owed if the district pleaded for mercy.
That was the longest of long shots, especially considering district officials didn’t even have the courtesy to inform charter officials of their plan in advance, leaving them to learn about it through the media.
You’d think district administrators would have been on the phone the next day arranging to visit the charters to pitch their plan.
But that didn’t happen. For the entire month of July.
It’s almost like they forgot about it. Allentown administrators didn’t formally make the request until last week. That’s a delay of roughly 40 days. And when officials finally made their pitch, it was done by email and mail.
How could any charter school take such a tardy and impersonal request seriously? Not only are Allentown school officials overly wishful, they’re lazy.
It seems the bureaucrats would have waited even longer to ask if they had more time. The district had to submit its final budget to the state last week, so it had to finally ask the charters to forgo a combined $6 million — 10% less than
they are due — so it could write that amount off in its budget.
Superintendent Thomas Parker told me Monday the charter schools received an email and personal letter from school board President Audrey Mathison “inviting them to make contact with the district and discuss plans. That may happen individually or collectively.”
He said the timeline doesn’t preclude that from happening.
“The charter schools still have time to communicate with the district and agree to work with us on the fiscal concerns,” he said.
As much as I’d like to see Allentown schools turn the corner, I hope the charters reject the request.
I’m not a fan of charter schools. I’ve made that clear in the past. But the way they were treated by the district on this critical request showed a lack of respect.
I want the Allentown School District to succeed. I really do. But there’s little evidence that things will change. This is just the latest in a string of disappointing actions and decisions.
In January, the school board approved hiring a $100,000-a-year communications director. As I said at the time, that’s a lot of money for a district that relied on a $10 million state bailout to balance its budget the previous year. Especially with the district already having a $67,000-a-year communications manager.
With such a robust staff, I should point out, there should have been no shortage of manpower to communicate with charter schools about the payment reduction request.
Not long after that came news that the district dug itself a financial hole by “underbudgeting” for salaries. That should be impossible to do. The district knows how many employees it has and it knows how much they earn. It just flunked when it did the math.
In May, it plugged the hole by borrowing $10 million. That will cost $14 million to repay, which only digs the hole deeper.
Then, still unable to balance its budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, it banked on the generosity of the charter schools.
So what happens if the charters reject the request, as one already has told The Morning Call it will? I hope the state takes a long look at the budget it received and notices that it’s not truly the final budget it’s supposed to be.
It should be enough to put the district on “watch status,” the first step in determining whether the state should take the reigns in an attempt to turn the district around.
The Allentown School District wants charter schools to accept lower payments so the district can balance its budget. But it didn’t bother to ask them until the last minute.