There have been some new developments in the sad tale of the Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvalnia, but its future still remains uncertain.
I wrote last week that the district had run out of money — a result of drastic budget cuts, bad management, student attrition to charter schools and other factors — and was staying open thanks to unionized teachers and staff who agreed to work for free.
The state government had initially refused to help, but changed its mind — perhaps out of embarrassment by the public outcry, which included candlelight vigils and national press coverage. So Gov. Tom Corbett has agreed to provide $3.2 million in funding but that will only cover about a month. Then the money runs out again.
Apparently the governor doesn’t think the uncertainty will much affect the 3,650 students (more than 70 percent of them eligible for free or reduced-price lunches) still enrolled in the district. One wonders how well he would be able to concentrate on his job if he knew he might be tossed out of office in a few weeks.
Some students have already fled to other districts, and two charter schools — one of them run by Corbett’s main contributor — have already attracted 45 percent of the kids who once attended Chester Upland’s beleaguered schools.
So who will help this district? Frank Aldridge, a teacher in the district sent me an email with a good suggestion. Here’s what he had to say:
“Hello and thank you for your insightful and to the point remarks on the current state of affairs in the Chester Upland School District.
“The finger pointing, and assignment of blame is remarkable. Many many things have fallen through the cracks by many people from many organizations over many many years. But, as you point out, this is (should be) about the kids.
“My heart bleeds for these kids. Many of these students have seen so much tragedy, loss, and rejection in 16 years than most will see in a lifetime. Now, when faced with the possibility of their schools closing they are hit yet again. In discussions between students regarding the possibility of being sent to other districts, a common response from students is, “They won’t do that; nobody wants us.” Heartbreaking
“What will be done? We cannot pass this on to neighboring districts. Everyone has undergone cuts. Class sizes are up everywhere. Moving kids creates more overcrowding and all associated concerns. Moving kids fixes nothing. Moving kids holds no one accountable. I agree with your assessment - hold everyone accountable and fix this problem.
“How does this get done when politicians have chosen this place to square off on the issue of school vouchers and privatization? How does this get done when the person who stands to benefit financially from privatization is the governor’s largest political contributor? Are there legal concerns? Ethical? Certainly moral.
“I humbly suggest that no person, official, or agency within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania should have a hand in the matter. All due credit, everyone has had well over ten years to fix this problem, and here we are. The federal government must be intimately involved and take the lead on this. I do not take that lightly, and am not a fan of federal government involvement in such local matters. In this case; however, it seems that everyone has dropped the ball in one way or another. Some may even have hidden (or not so hidden) agendas.
“This is about the kids. Their education and welfare must be everyone’s goal. Without that, Chester-Upland is just the tip of a very large iceburg. An iceberg that might sink public education.”
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