Chester Upland district will recall 33 teachers

Posted: August 04, 2011

Hit hard by deep state and federal funding cuts, Delaware County's struggling Chester Upland School District will start the school year with only about 55 percent of the teachers who were there when classes ended in June.

Late that month, the school board passed a budget that slashed spending by 15 percent and voted to lay off 295 employees - more than 40 percent of the workforce. That number included more than half of the professional staff: teachers, counselors, nurses, and social workers. Some retired, reducing the number of staffers furloughed.

The board reopened the budget at a sparsely attended meeting Thursday night and voted to call back 33 teachers, two counselors, and 10 "climate-control managers" - school safety employees.

But that left more than 150 professional staff laid off out of about 330 who had been there at the end of the school year. It also left dozens of support staff and 11 security guards without jobs.

As a result, class sizes will rise from an average of 21 students per teacher last school year to 30 in the elementary grades and 35 in high school.

No other district in the area has cut anything like that percentage of overall staff or teachers; Philadelphia, even with large-scale budget reductions, has trimmed overall staffing by less than 15 percent and the teaching staff by just over 10 percent.

"It is devastating," said Gloria Zoranski, president of the Chester Upland Education Association.

School Board President Wanda Mann said, "I cry every night because of the situation."

District Superintendent Joyce Wells told the audience: "This is very difficult. We can't stretch the dollars any more than we have."

Wells said after the meeting that some support staff might be called back, but that no more teachers would be recalled. "Everything is still fluid," she said. "We are still looking at every means to make this district as viable as possible."

The 7,150-student district, which depends on federal and state aid for more than 70 percent of its budget, lost about 55 percent of its state aid this year as well as $11 million in federal stimulus money, compared with the 2010-11 school year.

The Chester Upland board revisited the budget Thursday night because in late June, the state budget passed in Harrisburg sent the district about $10.5 million more than officials expected. When it first voted for the layoffs, on June 28, the board had not had time to calculate how many jobs that added money would save.

Only about 40 people attended Thursday's meeting. Charlie Warren, a longtime school board critic and candidate for the board in the fall, told the board, "We're going to cut programs now; we're going to go over the cliff. We need every person back [teaching] in this district to get to where we need to be."

One reason the cuts remained so deep is that one of the largest state funding cuts was not undone.

School districts have to pay for the cost of educating their students in charter schools, which almost 40 percent of Chester Upland students attend.

In 2010-11, the state reimbursed the district for $11.1 million of those costs. The budget deal reached in Harrisburg on June 30 included no state charter reimbursements for 2011-12.

The 2011-12 Chester Upland budget passed in late June appropriated $39.4 million - about 40 percent of total spending - for payments to charter schools.


Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 215-854-2612 or dhardy@phillynews.com.

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