Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What's next for Chester Upland?

Now what?

Is there a Plan B for the Chester Upland School District?

There had better be.

That's my thought after Delaware County Judge Chad Kenney late last night rejected the key cog in Gov. Tom Wolf's financial recovery plan for the Chester Upland School District.

While Kenney gave the green light to a forensic audit of the district's books and appointment of a financial recovery officer, those were merely window dressing.

The guts of the plan - as you might expect - was money. In particular how much money the district reimburses local charter schools for special education students.

Chester Upland pays an outrageous $40,000-plus for every special education student who attends a charter school. The Wolf plan would have reduced that to a little more than $16,000 per student. Coupled with some tweaks in regulations concerning cyberschools, Wolf, Chester Upland Receiver Francis Barnes and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said they would be able to wipe out the district's yawning $23 million deficit and put the district on sound financial footing for the first time in decades.

That's not going to happen. At least not now. Kenney rejected the state plan, calling it "wholly inadequate" in terms of repairing the district's shaky fiscal condition. He also chided the state for failing to provide enough details in terms of how they came up with this latest plan and the shift in special education funding.

When they rolled out this latest recovery plan, both Wolf and his education folks made one thing clear. Without this radical action, they were not sure if Chester Upland could open its doors in September. And if they did, they hinted they may not be able to function for long, with the red ink likely growing to $40 million during the school year.

Chester Upland is due to open schools the day after Labor Day.

Kenney's decision is a clear victory for charter schools, in particular the biggest charter school in the state, Chester Community Charter School.

But is it a win for the children of Chester Upland? Especially if their school district drowns in a sea of red ink.

The ball just bounced back into the state's lap.

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