torrent of activity has surrounded the crisis of money and management at the Chester Upland School District (CUSD) over the past few days.
State officials announced late Tuesday that a federal judge ordered the state to pay the district $3.2 million. The money is supposed to help the district meet its payroll obligations this week. State education officials, however, stand firm in their belief that CUSD has been woefully mismanaged for a long time and they intend to fight CUSD’s claims for more money in a federal hearing scheduled for Feb. 23rd around a lawsuit brought by the district against the state.
Meanwhile, state officials have reacted to scores of protests by students and parents by planning meetings to discuss the situation.
State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland will hold an informational meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19th at 6:00 P.M. at the Chester Fine Arts Center East.
State Sen. Dominic Pileggi, the Senate majority leader, will meet with parents and concerned community people on Friday, Jan. 27th from 8 -9 A.M. at the school administration building at 17th and Melrose Ave. followed by a public hearing on the crisis hosted by state Rep. William Adolph, chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, at 10 A.M. at Widener University.
All of this activity came after last week’s activity that included an online petition drive, a candlelight vigil, student walk-out, negotiation sessions with the state, and the appointment of a new acting CUSD superintendent of schools.
Lastweek, a bi-partisan group of state lawmakers asked to meet with Gov. Tom Corbett and state Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis and Budget Secretary Charles Zogby.
Republican state reps. Stephen Barrar (160), of Upper Chichester; Joseph Hackett (161), of Ridley Township; Thomas Killion (168), of Middletown; and House Appropriations Chairman William Adolph, Jr. (165), of Springfield; and Republican senators Dominic Pileggi (9), of Chester and Ted Erickson (26), of Newtown joined with Democratic reps. Maria Donatucci (185), of Philadelphia/Sharon Hill; Greg Vitali (166), of Haverford; and Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach (17), of Upper Merion, in a letter Friday calling for the meeting to illicit immediate action.
Chester’s Kirkland was not included. He sent a separate letter last week requesting a meeting and complaining that several prior requests for meetings went unanswered.
Parent Danyel Jennings, whose daughter and son attend Chester Upland schools, launched a petition on the website www.change.org asking Corbett to release requested funding to the district so teachers and staff can be paid through the end of the year. The last paycheck received by the teachers was on Jan. 4th and they are due another check Wednesday, Jan. 18th.
The district cannot meet its payroll and requested and was denied an advance of more than $18 million from the state Dept. of Education. The state refused the request, saying the district was responsible for creating its own financial crisis and strongly suggested that mismanagement of funds was at the root of the problem.
Teachers have vowed to continue working for as long as possible and attended last week’s school board meeting en masse in a show of solidarity. A banner reading, “Gov. Corbett: Save Our Schools” was hung on the back wall of the school board meeting room, which was signed by teachers, parents and students.
The petition, as of last week, had garnished more than 1,000 signatures and can be found at www.change.org/petitions/governor-of-pennsylvania-pay-teachers-in-chester.
Prior to the Jan. 12th meeting of the Chester-Upland School Board, a candlelight vigil organized by members of ACTION UNITED, took place outside the administration building.
At the beginning of the standing room only meeting, School Board President Wanda Mann announced that solicitor Leo Hackett was not there, but was instead, “in federal court trying to move things along for the district.”
Mann, who, on Friday was among several Republican political appointees fired from their paying city jobs by the new Democratic Linder Administration, also expressed appreciation to CUSD teachers for standing by the district. “Thank you for loving our children like we love them,” said Mann. “We are grateful to all of you.”
Questions were raised about whether the district has a comprehensive plan in place if funding is not forthcoming by the state.
“On Wednesday morning if these children have no school to go to, what has the school board put together that our children will be welcome in any school district in this state that’s close to the proximity of their residence so they can register to go to school?” asked Joan Turner. “Our children just came off a winter break. They don’t need another two weeks or five weeks off. If you don’t have a plan, please get one together so our children can go to school.”
Mann responded: “School will not be closed on Wednesday. We are working tirelessly every day to solve these issues.”
Prior to the end of the meeting Mann announced the appointment of Dr. Tony Watson as new acting superintendent of schools.
Watson comes to Chester from the Downingtown Area School District where he most recently served as assistant superintendent of schools.
He earned his bachelor of science and master’s degrees from Florida A&M University and a doctorate in educational administration from Immaculata University in 2001.
Watson will be paid $800 per day through June or until a permanent superintendent is hired. He replaces Acting Superintendent Dr. Levi Wingard, whose brief tenure ended Dec. 31st.
“First I would like to thank the school district and school board for having the confidence in me to lead the (district) and provide our students with a high quality education,” Watson said. “I know it’s been said on more than one occasion tonight, but I sincerely want to express to the teachers how much I appreciate what you and the support staff are doing. If there has ever been a time for Chester to unite and work as one, the time is now.”
The following day, more than 300 students from Science and Discovery and Chester High schools walked out of school and marched to Chester City Hall in an effort to bring yet more attention to the plight of students attending Chester schools.