Chester-Upland School District abandons plan to share administration with charters

 Buses from the financially troubled Chester Upland School District await dismissal from Chester High School on West Ninth Street. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

Buses from the financially troubled Chester Upland School District await dismissal from Chester High School on West Ninth Street. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

A Chester County judge has scrapped a money-saving attempt by the Chester-Upland School District to merge the administration of its district and charter schools.

The District’s state-appointed receiver Joe Watkins said Judge Chad Kenney scrapped his plan to merge the administration of public and charter schools due to a lack of progress.

Meetings with charter administrators had been “civil,” said  the district’s state-appointed receiver Joe Watkins.

“I think some of the concern had to do with the issues of control,” he said. “In a partnership, those are legitimate.”

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The Chester-Upland School District faces a $20 million structural deficit, which Watkins attributes to costs incurred by student exodus to charter schools and the state government’s decision in 2011 to eliminate money in the budget to help districts cover the cost of departure.

Almost half of the more than 7,000 students in the area attend charter schools.

Watkins has floated several unorthodox fixes for the chronically underperforming and overextended school district, including talk of a partnership and an flux of more than $1 billion from a Chinese investor. 

In the past, the district has offered laptops and Dr. Dre headphones to lure students back from charters.

Watkins unpacked his plan to partner with the charters -– which included recategorizing charter students as Chester-Upland School District students — at a hearing in December.

“By recategorizing charter students and making them Chester Upland students, we wouldn’t have been obligated to pay their tuition costs,” said Watkins. He said the district currently pays $9,000 to $35,000 in tuition per student, in addition to absorbing departure costs.

At that same hearing, Judge Chad Kenney also responded to a move from Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq to oust Watkins from his post in favor of former Education Secretary Frances V. Barnes.

Kenney ruled against the state’s move in December, so as not to “break up the team” that had made some progress in a number of areas of the state-mandated recovery plan for the district.

Barnes on Friday was appointed the district’s new chief recovery officer, a position that works closely with the receiver.

Watkins said he now plans to focus on legislative changes to complete the work of the recovery plan. “We’ve completed a majority of the items on the recovery plan … the items we’ve not completed are mostly linked to the structural deficit,” he said.

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