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?