By MichelLee

The Chester Upland School District’s (CUSD) website shows a list of elected school board members that allows viewers to click on each of the nine members’ names to learn more about them and see their pictures.

But you can’t. There are no pictures and no biographical information about any of them.

You think you’ll catch them at a school board meeting? Wrong again. Eight of those nine elected members are consistently absent from monthly school board meeting, including its vice president, Joan Neal. The lone attendee is board President Anthony Johnson.

The pattern of consistent no-shows is also apparent among both Democratic and Republican candidates campaigning for the expired terms on the school board.

Chester GOP Chairman James “Jimmy” Johnson declined to comment about repeated absences among the Republican school board candidates.

Chester Democratic CUSD board candidate Fred Green said he and his running mate, Christina Delva, have been “actively involved hosting youth organizations that conflict with the meetings.”

“I’ll try to plan the next youth (organization meetings) around the school board meetings so I can attend,” Green told a reporter.

Delva did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment, but another reporter said, last month both Green and Delva were seen at an evening youth event at Chester City Hall while the CUSD school board meeting was simultaneously taking place across the city.

Apparently prompted by a reporter’s inquiry, spokespeople from both parties indicate they will show interest in attending meetings moving forward, just in time for the May 16 primary election.

Johnson is the sole elected member to attend meetings, but sources familiar with the board said the overwhelming absence is the sting of powerlessness felt from being on a state controlled board.

The state’s presence “shouldn’t matter,” said Wanda Mann, who served on the board for 22 years, especially while the district was “under state Board of Control.”

“It matters that you were elected by the people of Chester,” Mann said about her successors. “The people on this (state) board are not elected, they are not from Chester. You need your elected school board there, you need the parents there, you need the community there; those that pay taxes.”

Mann, now a county employee, described her two-decade tenure as “quite the roller coaster ride for a few years” as control teetered from citizens to the state, but said she still felt dedicated to her community during the lows of state control.

“There’s some responsibility there,” she said, adding that the elected board retains the power to levy taxes and sign for bonds.

Academically, Mann said, the elected board must oversee student hearings that determine a child’s placement in “alternative education” and disciplinary actions.

Green also dispelled the feeling of powerlessness, instead expressed hopefulness that full control will ultimately be restored to the elected board.

“The district is making progress,” Green said. “It was projected that there would be a $50 million deficit by this year, but there’s only a $4 million deficit.”

The Delaware County Intermediate Unit (DCIU) is hosting three focus group sessions this week to gather community input into the search for a new CUSD superintendent. Whoever is chosen will be the 16th superintendent to lead the district in almost as many years.

The first group was held Monday at Chester High School. The second group was Tuesday at STEM Academy and the lasy will be Thursday (May 4) at 6 p.m. at Toby Farms Intermediate School.

The focus groups give people the chance to find out more about the search process and give input into key areas to assist in finding the ideal candidate for the next superintendent. The data collected during the focus groups will be used during the course of the interview process.

The focus groups were led by DCIU administrators conducting the search on the district’s behalf.

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