Chester Upland reaches an agreement with Pa. on district's debts

Posted: July 29, 2012

The Chester Upland School District has reached an agreement in legal action against the state Department of Education where the department will provide about $30.2 million to pay off the district's debts and allow it to open for the coming school year.

The settlement was presented before U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson on Friday. A final hearing is set for Aug. 15.

In a related settlement, the state agreed to pay Chester Community Charter School more than $12 million. In June, the school received $5.5 million from the state related to delinquent charter-school payments from the district.

"We are hopeful that this will be the beginning of a successful reform process," said Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which represents parents and students in the district who also are parties to the legal actions.

"It is a satisfactory arrangement to all the parties," said Leo Hackett, who represented the district. "It helps the district get back on financial footing and gives them the ability to move forward, which was in serious doubt a few months ago."

Calls to the charter school and the Department of Education were not immediately returned.

There are about 3,400 students in the district, of whom about 850 are special needs students.

As part of the settlement, the district agreed to hire additional staff, including a director of special education, a supervisor of special education, a school psychologist and guidance counselor. District officials will revise the special education policy and procedure manual, and schedule staff training.

The state will place a special education officer in the district for the next school year as part of the settlement. That officer will have the authority to ensure that students with disabilities receive the free and appropriate education they are entitled to under state and federal laws and will be available to parents, Churchill said.

Also, as part of the agreements, the district and the charter school agreed to drop all lawsuits against the commonwealth currently in state and federal courts. The agreement does not apply to any individual lawsuits filed by parents.

The financially troubled district sued saying its schools were in danger of closing and the state was not providing funding needed so Chester Upland could meet its legal obligations to special education students.

Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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