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Blog: Chester Upland School District Out of Money. Can Others be Far Behind?

Unlike Chester Upland School District, the T/E School District may be at the end of the line to fall off the cliff, but ... how far off is that fall?

There is some chilling news for public education out of Delaware County. . .  is this a ‘sign of the times’. 

With no help from the state and no fund balance, the Chester Upland School District (CUSD) has announced they have no money to pay their teachers. CUSD has a cash crisis and this past week the district ran out of money. Unless emergency funding arrives immediately, the CUSD will not meet its payroll on January 18 – which means no paychecks for teachers.  Also, means no money for electricity or heating in the schools.  To satisfy the January 18 payroll crisis, CUSD needs $7 million immediately and approximately $20 million to finish the school year.

When Gov. Corbett cut the education budget last year, we know that the cuts hit the poorer school districts the hardest – such as CUSD.  Because CUSD relies on the state for nearly 70% of their funding, the district now finds themselves in the hole by $19 million and unable to disburse paychecks.

In an impressive show of support for the students, the CUSD teachers resolved through their union, to stay on the job as long as they can.  As altruistic as their intentions, how long can the teachers realistically work without a paycheck.  Still it shows a remarkable level of compassion from the teachers and indicates ‘who’ really cares about the students.

In mid-December, the CUSD school board and teachers union begged Corbett and PA Department of Education (PDE) for an advance 2012 emergency funding of $18.7 million — $17.5 million for basic education subsidy plus $1.2 million for special education funding. (click here  to read CUSD letter).

However, on December 24, CUSD received word from Harrisburg that their advance request was denied.  It was suggested in the response from PDE that the CUSD’s economic crisis was a result of their own making — suggesting that the school board had mismanaged the school district’s operations and finances.  As a result, regardless of their cash crisis, the letter states that no help will be coming to CUSD from the state.  (click here to read PDE’s response to CUSD).

Before the start of the 2011-12 school year, CUSD already laid off 40% of their professional staff and 50% of their unionized support staff.  Because of those actions, the teachers now have class sizes exceeding 40 students. If emergency funding does not arrive by January 18, CUSD may be forced to close schools.

Some of the T/E school board members believe that the financial crisis in school districts (exacerbated by the looming PSERS costs) needs to be fixed in Harrisburg. However, I don’t know how realistic that approach -- if the PA Department of Education is willing to allow a weaker, poorer school district, like Delaware County's Chester Upland School District, to implode why should we think that the state will help the healthier, more financially secure school districts.  The school districts, like T/E  that are sitting on hefty fund balances are not certainly not going to find themselves at the front of the line, if and when, the state decides to offer financial assistance.

Several local school board members have suggested that the financial problems facing our school district, and every other district across the state, is a problem that needs fixing in Harrisburg.  I probably would not disagree that the state needs to help.  However, based on CUSD’s dire financial situation, I think that the ‘hoping for Harrisburg help’ position may prove futile and unrealistic.

Please, before anyone jumps in and suggests that I am somehow comparing T/E School District to Chester Upland School District – I am not.  These two school districts represent opposite ends of the spectrum in probably every way . . .  from property values to student test scores.  And whereas, CUSD has no fund balance, our school district has one of the largest fund balances in the state.

BUT . . . realistically, how many school districts ‘away’ from a Chester Upland School District cash crisis is T/E? 

Due to PDE funding cuts and looming PSERS costs, all the school districts across the Commonwealth are sitting on the edge of a cliff.  Sure, T/E and other local school districts with their significant fund balances, may be at the end of the line to fall off the cliff, but . .  .  how far off is that fall?

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Bob Byrne January 09, 2012 at 03:21 PM
This post frames the dilemma facing school districts in Pennsylvania well. Faced with huge pension costs that they had no control over, local school districts, including T/E, must now meet those costs. On the other side of the coin is political reality. There is little sympathy outside of Southeast Pennsylvania for the problems of Chester-Upland or especially Philadelphia. The Governor ran on a platform of shaking up the economic status-quo, which was a popular political message until it hits home. Now local districts are left to cover the pension costs that are too high to bear in most local districts or make difficult spending cut decision. State reps may be caught in the middle with a governor pushing to cut state spending and local voters demanding a restoration of the funds. And there are the unions. They did their job and got what they were able to negotiate for their members. Now it is coming back to bite some as teachers in Upland may not get paid at all due to a lack of funds. A big picture then emerges of every man (or in this case constituency) for himself. A daunting picture indeed as the T/E Finance Committee and T/E teachers union begin work on a new teacher contract. As Benjamin Franklin famously said at the singing of the Declaration of Independence: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. Perhaps it's time for all Pennsylvanians to find a way to take a broader view of the very complex issues of school funding.
rick January 10, 2012 at 04:55 PM
I believe you will see more inner city schools fall by the wayside.Governor Corbett is anti public education and is a vehement proponent of vouchers.Most of the Chester kids will end up in the Chester Community Charter Schools where the teachers are paid poorly and the CEO runs it for profit.

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