Pa. lawmakers again consider oversight of struggling Chester Upland schools

Legislation under consideration in Harrisburg would place Chester Upland and other financially distressed school districts under state oversight. The still-troubled district recently ended years under state control.

The bill would establish a warning system and set up a loan program, but opponents worry it would do much more than that.

 

Chester resident and parent Danyel Jennings is not looking forward to the state taking the reins again:

“I don’t think they understand Chester or the demographic that’s in Chester,” Jennings said. “I don’t think that they care to understand Chester. And I think being as though it didn’t work the first time, taking over again isn’t going to work.”

State Sen. Daylin Leach, who opposes the legislation, said the loan program would need a lot of money.

“Keep in mind, Chester Upland alone needed $21 million to survive this school year,” said Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware. “There’s maybe 40 or 50 school districts that are in trouble.”

Leach is doubtful the schools would have the money to repay the loans. And he said he worries about other parts of the bill.

“It allows a chief recovery officer to come in, bust the union, break teacher agreements, and turn the school over to a private charter school,” Leach said. “So, to me, this is an opportunistic bill to fulfill an ideological wish list, that’s not going to actually help any school.”

Michael Griffith is with a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called Education Commission of the States. While the state can help struggling districts remedy financial problems, he says, “if the emergency manager comes in and takes over from a group of people who are making poor financial decisions and when that person leaves the same people come back and continue to make poor financial decisions — it just becomes a cycle.”

Leach said the solution to struggling schools’ problem is not a secret: they need more funding.

After a year of uncertainty, Chester Upland’s students will be waiting to see what happens next.

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