NEA President: Leaving Chester Upland Students in Limbo a “Dereliction of Duty”
By Kevin Hart
The students of the Chester Upland School District, one of the poorest districts in Pennsylvania, deserve the security of knowing that their schools will have the funding to remain open for the entire school year. That was the message delivered by National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel after a $3.2 million agreement between the state and the cash-strapped district provided only enough funding to pay salaries and operating expenses for another month.
“It is a dereliction of duty to the children of Chester Upland for the Pennsylvania governor and the secretary of education to withhold funds for the district’s schools,” Van Roekel said in a statement. “The $3.2 million is just a short-term fix and is not a solution for the district’s students.”
Chester Upland, reeling from massive state budget cuts initiated by Governor Tom Corbett, announced in December that it had run out of money to pay employees and meet other financial obligations, starting with checks that were due January 18. Despite its role in causing the financial crisis in Chester Upland, the Corbett administration initially refused to provide the district with an advance on funding due later in the year.
The district’s educators were inundated daily with inquiries from students who feared their schools would be closed any day. In an effort to create stability for the district’s students, members of the Chester Upland Education Association and the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association, affiliates of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the National Education Association, passed a resolution in early January promising to stay on the job – even without pay – as long as they were individually able.
The district continued negotiations with the state and this week the Pennsylvania Department of Education agreed to advance Chester Upland $3.2 million – enough for another month of operations. Van Roekel said the district’s teachers and support professionals stepped up to the plate to help keep district schools operating – and it’s time for the state to do its part.
“I am so proud of our local NEA leadership and members, the 204 teachers and 65 school support staff who work in the Chester Upland School District,” he said. “Our members are doing as much as they can to keep the promise of public education to their students. Now, the State of Pennsylvania must do all that it can to keep teachers and ESPs on the job and give them the compensation that they work for so that they can feed their own families.”