This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Your browser does not support the audio tag.
Last week, Chester Upland School District receiver Francis Barnes and Superintendent Gregory Shannon announced that the district doesn’t have the funds to make payroll. Without dollars trickling down from the state, the district is in dire financial straits.
Before that announcement, a Delaware County judge rejected a state-backed financial recovery plan that would have reduced payments to charter schools — which educate about half of Chester Upland’s students — to try to set the district on a long climb back to a balanced budget.
In response to these blows, the teachers’ union voted to work without pay. Administrative and support staff are also staying in their positions.
In spite of these problems, the message from leaders on the first day of school was one of commitment and survival.
"I know a lot of people say we’re going through struggles, and we are," said State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland. "They’ve been wanting Chester Upland to fail for the past 20-plus years. Each time, and every time, we’ve risen like the phoenix."
School Board President Anthony Johnson echoed that sentiment.
"You know, we’re dealing with a lot of issues coming into the school year, but I want everyone to be unified — teachers, parents, students," said Johnson.
Johnson acknowledged to the clusters of parents and union boosters that this isn’t the first time Chester Upland schools have run out of money. But he said that was not the focus for the day.
"So we’re going to forget about that today and forget about that the rest of the school year," Johnson said. "You guys focus on being educated. Because that’s one of the things they say we’re not."
One thing that did not come up during those tidy speeches was how the financial burden has fallen on Chester Upland staff.