The unions asked the Corbett administration to provide financial aid for the district. A similar request by the school board was turned down last month.
"We're asking that elected officials in Harrisburg take responsibility," said Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association who attended the Chester gathering.
In a Dec. 22 letter to the Chester Upland school board, state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said the board had failed to properly manage its finances and would not get any additional funds.
Chester Upland is expected to fall about $19 million short this school year - almost 20 percent of its $96 million budget. The district, which depends on state aid for close to 70 percent of its funding, lost millions from Harrisburg last year because of statewide budget cuts, many of which came down hardest on poorer districts.
Also, about 45 percent of its students attend two charter schools in the city. District payments to charter schools this year are projected at $43 million - 45 percent of the total budget.
Payments to the charters are being taken out of the state's budget allocations for Chester Upland, so they will continue even after the district runs out of funds for staff salaries and other obligations.
Still, the charters have not received all they are due.
The Chester Community Charter School, the state's largest, sued the district and the state late last year, saying that payments so far have fallen $3.8 million short of what it should have gotten.
The district shed about 40 percent of its professional staff and about half of its unionized support staff before school began last fall. There are now about 200 professionals and 65 school support staff; average class size is over 40 in some schools.
Two administrators, the former acting superintendent and former acting assistant superintendent, were laid off in late December; their salaries had totaled $360,000 a year.
Chester Upland has already withheld pay hikes totaling about $800,000 from its teachers, in violation of the contract with them.
The district has no superintendent; it is led by acting assistant superintendent Thomas Persing, a former Montgomery County superintendent who was hired in November, for $800 a day.
Contact staff writer Dan Hardy at 215-854-2612, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @DanInq.
Follow the Inquirer at www.Twitter.com/PhillyInquirer and www.Facebook.com/PhillyInquirer