By Elizabeth Perry
Patrick O’Toole replaces John Zahorchak at Sto-Rox School District as the district’s Chief Recovery Officer.
O’Toole has a 40-year educational background. He was acting superintendent of the North Allegheny School District and was superintendent of the Upper St. Clair School District for 11 years. A Clarion University graduate, he earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pittsburgh.
“Every financial piece of information you have has a child behind it,” O’Toole said at the Jan. 19 workshop meeting in which he addressed the school board.
Both O’Toole and Zahorchak were assigned by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to oversee the district’s recovery plan. Zahorchak held the position for a year. After years of running deficits, the state mandated a five-year recovery plan to get Sto-Rox back on solid financial footing.
“The ultimate outcome is for the district to exit recovery status as has happened recently in Erie, York and Scranton,” O’Toole said.
Manager Paul Sroka has said the district has nearly halved its deficit from $6.5 million to $3 million. The school district could break even in 2023, Sroka said, but they are still reliant on supplemental government money which will be running out next year.
“Progress has been made on the financial elements of the plan. However, much work remains in order to right-size the finances and improve academic achievement,” O’Toole said.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, some of those tough discussions began.
The school board discussed why the decision to combine the middle school and high school was made and if separating them out again would increase school enrollment.
Many high school teachers also teach middle schoolers, so separating the younger students out at this point would not be a feasible option, Van Fossan said.
“We need to increase our honor and AP opportunities,” Van Fossan said.
The board also needs to take steps to ensure languages will continue to be offered, Van Fossan said.
Van Fossan suggested including local preschool teachers to instruct them with early learning classes to help kindergarten students to meet state standards.
Van Fossan said the district is making a push to get students involved in the Parkway West Career and Technology Center to learn trades, “Because those folks are walking out of there with job offers.”