Pa. offers plan to keep Chester Upland district afloat through end of school year

With Wednesday’s payday drawing near for the Chester Upland School District’s teachers, Pennsylvania’s education secretary has a plan to keep the district afloat for a few more months. Chester Upland officials have been warning that the district is running out of money and may not be able to meet its payroll.

Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis says the state could help the district until the end of the school year — but only if a third party manages the finances.

Bringing in a third party is just fine with Chester Upland parent Danyel Jennings.

“I would think that now, in the ninth inning, it’s a good idea,” Jennings said. “Since no one has seemed to be able to handle the money thus far.”

The idea of an outsider taking some control isn’t new. The school district was under state control from 1994 through 2010.

Jennings says, if this plan moves forward, the third party should be vetted carefully.

“I don’t trust the state to make good decisions for our district because of where we’re at now and all of the state control and the control boards that the state put in charge,” Jennings said. “They obviously weren’t vetting people or having the district’s best interests at heart.”

In January, the Chester Upland School Board sued the state in federal court to get more funding. The judge ordered the state to give the district a $3.2 million advance to keep schools open.

Teachers and support personnel agreed to keep working without pay — if the district couldn’t meet payroll — at least temporarily.

Gloria Zoranski, the president of the Chester Upland Education Association, says teachers are optimistic.

“I have to admit that come near payday we get a little nervous. We’ve had a couple days where the paycheck was late. Two days late,” she said.

Zoranski says she’s still reading the report and declined to comment on whether it’s a good idea to have a third party handle the district’s finances.

“We’re not sure exactly what it means, but if it’s to make the district solvent, anyone can imagine it would be a good thing,” she said.

Chester Upland has one of the highest student poverty rates in Pennsylvania.

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