This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Teachers’ union president Michele Paulick said she received some unwelcome news at the Chester Upland School District teacher convocation this week.
"Our superintendent, Gregory Shannon, read a letter from our receiver, Francis Barnes, that informed the teachers that there are no funds," said Paulick, who described feeling "shock, frustration and anger" at the news.
However, in a Thursday evening vote, the 200-member union decided unanimously to work without pay for as long as individual members are able, Paulick said. The Chester Upland School District educates about 3,500 students, with nearly the same number attending area charter schools.
"We arrived at the decision to continue working because we have to put our children first," she said. "It’s not their fault we’re in this situation."
Two factors put Chester Upland in an especially difficult position. The district, which has been designated fiscally distressed for more than 20 years, is carrying a $24 million budget deficit from the last school year. Thanks to Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget gridlock, no money is flowing into the district from state coffers.
With no fund balance and no money coming in, officials said they won’t be able to make payroll for the first week of school, which starts Wednesday.
The parent union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, is helping to raise funds to supplement teachers’ loss of income.
This is the second time in recent memory that Chester Upland teachers voted to work without pay. In 2012, the district ran out of operating funds in January and asked for an emergency infusion of cash from then-Gov. Tom Corbett.
This year, the timing is worse, said Paulick. "We haven’t had any paychecks coming in over the summer, so it was very difficult to budget" for the coming weeks.
News that the district is too broke to operate comes on the heels of another blow to its finances. Earlier this week, Delaware County Court of Common Pleas Judge Chad Kenney rejected several portions of a recovery plan that would have eliminated the district’s existing fund deficit.