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Struggling Penn. District Tries to Hold Off Insolvency

The Chester, Pa. Community Charter School and the Chester-Upland School District are partnering to come up with a way for the district to stay solvent through the end of the school year.

The funding would come from new money and a shift in previously allocated money, Thomas Persing, Chester-Upland's acting assistant superintendent, told me today. All told, it would bring about $28.5 million to the district.

Chester-Upland has laid off its top leaders, so Persing, a former superintendent who has made a second career out of being a turnaround specialist for troubled Pennsylvania school districts, is running Chester-Upland at the cost of $800 a day. Without more funds, the district will run out of money by Wednesday, he said.

The K-8 charter school educates about 3,000 students in this small city between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., and the Chester-Upland district has an enrollment of about 3,700 students. For years, the district has struggled with academic achievement and financial stability, finally stating earlier this month that it wouldn't be able to meet its Jan. 18 payroll. A federal judge ordered that the district be given $3.2 million from the state, which gave the district a few more weeks of operating funds.

Teachers in the beleaguered district have said they will stay in the classroom for as long as possible, a stance that earned one Chester Upland teacher, Sara Ferguson, a visit to Washington as a guest of the president during the recent State of the Union address.

The charter school has named the district as well as the state in a lawsuit it filed late last year to get education funds it says it was owed. The Chester-Upland district has also sued the state. But the district and the charter school have put aside their differences to present this proposal, Persing said.

The state has not responded to district and charter school's proposal, but Gov. Tom Corbett has said that the students of Chester-Upland will finish the school year in the district. Persing said he doesn't see how that can happen without an infusion of cash.

"It's imperative that the student and the parents and the citizens know what's being planned for them," he said.

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