Chester Upland School District settles two lawsuits against state Department of Education

Posted: July 05, 2012

Delaware County's cash-strapped Chester Upland School District has tentatively agreed to settle two lawsuits against the state Department of Education by having the department pay off millions in debts the district owes, a lawyer involved in the dispute said.

Michael Churchill, with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which represents parents and students in the district, said Tuesday that the deal also included $9.7 million in extra state aid for Chester Upland that the just-approved state budget allocated.

Chester Upland officials estimate that the 3,400-student district owes about $30 million to charter schools, vendors, employees, and the state. Some or all of the charters will not get all they are due, Churchill said.

The settlement was disclosed in a Friday court filing; no details were included. A July 27 hearing is scheduled before U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson where the proposed agreement, some details of which have not been finalized, will be presented. A final hearing is scheduled for Aug. 15.

A state Education Department spokesman, Tim Eller, said in an e-mail that he could not comment on Churchill's description of the tentative settlement. Chester Upland attorney Leo Hackett would say only that the agreement was intended to resolve all litigation between the district and the state.

In January, the Chester Upland district, beset by debts to the state and charter schools and by cuts in state funding, sued in federal court, asking Baylson to order the state to give it money to get through the school year and to teach special-education students in 2012-13. The district filed a similar suit in state court.

Baylson told the state to send $3.2 million to the district; the state later agreed to a payment plan that assured schools would stay open. Still, millions in debts remained.

Chester Community Charter School, which educates almost half of Chester Upland's children, also sued, asking the state to pay it since district officials said they did not have enough money to cover all they owed the charter.

Churchill said the charter had also reached agreement with the state. Charter spokesman A. Bruce Crawley would say only that it was still negotiating with the state and hoped to reach an agreement in the next few weeks.

The proposed settlement comes as Chester Upland awaits the appointment by state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis of a chief recovery officer, charged with devising a new financial plan for the troubled district.

Distressed-schools legislation passed in late June gives that recovery officer broad powers. The new law largely sidelines the Chester Upland school board and gives the state a larger role in determining the district's future.


Contact Dan Hardy at 601-313-8134 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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