Chester Upland community thanks educators for agreeing to work without pay
UPDATE: Chester Upland Educators and support professionals received word on September 8 that the school district would be able to make its scheduled payroll on September 9, and likely on September 23.
This news is a welcome surprise for employees and their families, but with no guarantee that the school district will be able to pay its employees beyond September, the future remains uncertain.
Until lawmakers pass a final state budget that funds schools properly and addresses the state's broken charter school funding system, Chester Upland's financial picture will grow increasingly bleak, and other school districts could find themselves in similar circumstances.
Educators, parents, and community leaders welcomed Chester Upland students back to school with bell-ringing ceremonies on the first day of classes to say thank you and show support for educators and support professionals who agreed to work without pay.
Sheila Hyland, whose daughter is entering the 10th grade in the district, told Huffington Post that she finds the idea of educators working without pay horrible. "They have to eat, they have to have a roof over their head, they have bills to pay like everybody else," said Hyland. "These politicians need to do the right thing and pay our teachers."
PSEA President Jerry Oleksiak joined the chorus of supporters. "These men and women are the finest example of public education professionals. They are putting their students first and making personal sacrifices to ensure that Chester Upland's kids can come to school. I couldn't be more proud to be a teacher today and stand with these amazing people. PSEA will do everything it can to support them."
Pictured: PSEA Treasurer Rich Askey, President Jerry Oleksiak, and Vice President Dolores McCracken
How did this happen?
The crisis in Chester Upland School District is a tragic example of school funding cuts and ballooning charter school payments' devastating impact on communities already struggling with poverty.
Chester Upland is among the poorest communities in Pennsylvania, and relies heavily on state budget funding to educate its students:
- 4th out of 500 school districts in state funding per pupil
- 6th out of 500 school districts in residents in deep poverty
- 1st out of 500 school districts in students attending charter schools
Chester Upland School District's charter payment for special education students is more than $40,000 - the third highest payment in the state.
The Chester Upland School District has been in and out of financial crises for 25 years, and is currently under state control. Half of the district's students attend charter schools, contributing significantly to the current financial crisis. Under current state rules, the district owes more to charter schools than it receives in state aid.
Without a state budget in place, Chester Upland won't receive any state funding.
Unwavering commitment to their students
This is the second time that Chester Upland educators and support professionals have agreed to work without pay to keep schools open. In early 2012 nearly $1 billion in funding cuts to Pennsylvania schools forced Chester Upland into a similar crisis, and educators answered the call.
"We've always put our students first, and we always will," said Dariah Jackson, a teacher at Stetser Elementary School and member of the Chester Upland Education Association. "We're here for the kids in our community. We're here with bells on."
"The people we elect to pass budgets and state policies need to fix this problem, and they need to do it immediately," said Oleksiak. "Chester Upland's students, families, and educators deserve the same support and respect as every other school district in Pennsylvania. They're not getting that support and respect, and it's about time our elected officials gave it to them."
Learn more about the crisis in Chester Upland and how you can help at www.psea.org/keepchesteruplandopen.