January 24, 2012

President Obama invites Chester Upland teacher to attend State of the Union address

Sara Ferguson - Chester Upland teacherSara C. Ferguson, a teacher from the Chester Upland School District said she is honored to accept President Barack Obama’s invitation to be the president’s distinguished guest for the State of the Union address on January 24.
Ferguson, an elementary math and literacy teacher, has taught for 20 years in the district she attended as a child. “I’m honored and thrilled to accept President Obama’s invitation,” said Ferguson. “The president’s invitation shows he is aware and concerned about the schoolchildren in Chester Upland and other districts facing financial crises.”

In ealry January 2012, Chester Upland School District administration officials informed the district’s EA and ESP members that the district would soon be unable to meet its payroll obligations. The teachers and support professionals of the district agreed to work temporarily without pay as a result.

Ferguson has been a spokesperson on behalf of the Chester Upland Education Association, an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. She has given numerous news media interviews, and recently appeared in a YouTube video produced by the National Education Association.

State legislators said on January 23 that they are hopeful that an agreement will be reached with Gov. Tom Corbett to provide additional funds to keep Chester Upland open for the remainder of the school year. The announcement came following a recent meeting with the governor in Harrisburg.

“Although Pennsylvania’s elected state officials appear to be finally recognizing the need to provide resources to allow the students in Chester Upland to finish the school year, this sad situation should never have reached this crisis point,” Ferguson said.

“This isn’t about numbers on a spreadsheet,” Ferguson said. “It’s not about dollars and cents. It’s about the children of this community. And it’s about our state government officials who up until yesterday were refusing to provide the help they need. President Obama understands this and has shown his interest in the success of all public school students.”

The 2011-2012 state budget approved by Gov. Corbett on June 30, cut an unprecedented 14.4 percent in state support from the district. Chester Upland has one of the highest student poverty rates in Pennsylvania, and is heavily dependent upon state funding. The district was declared financially distressed in 1994 and placed under state control until 2010.

Prior to the January 23 agreement, the governor had refused to provide additional resources to keep Chester Upland open beyond February.

“The resources which elected officials provide in classrooms across America will determine the future of students’ lives,” Ferguson said. “Ultimately the survival of our society depends upon the quality of our educational system. I hope to hear the president deliver this message, and I hope all elected officials hear it.”

The district has already made drastic cuts to its educational program in response to recent state funding reductions, including layoffs and furloughs to more than a third of its staff.

PSEA President Michael Crossey said, “PSEA is gratified to know that President Obama is paying attention to the crisis in Chester Upland.

“Perhaps the national attention focused on Chester Upland prompted Gov. Corbett to change his position,” said Crossey. “It’s sad to realize that this crisis has to reach such proportions before the governor would act to keep the schoolhouse doors open.

“For the past six months, news media have reported on the dire consequences the governor’s budget cuts have had on public school students,” Crossey said. “Class sizes have increased, tutoring programs have shut down, and courses have been eliminated.

“Now, we are seeing a new round of stories. Urban school districts like York are facing tens of millions of dollars in bills to charter schools,” Crossey said. “Rural school districts such as Warren County are looking at a new list of class size increases, pay freezes, and program cuts. Suburban school districts like West Shore in Cumberland County and Upper Saint Clair in Allegheny County are cutting, too.

“We can only hope that good judgment, compassion, and a commitment to doing the right thing for children will change the minds of elected officials in Harrisburg.”

Sara Ferguson holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Widener University, a master’s degree in elementary education from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Cabrini College. She has also completed the coursework for her Superintendent’s Letter of Eligibility from Saint Joseph’s University.



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