3 on Chester Upland board defend rejecting state plan

Posted: November 30, 2012

Three members of the Chester Upland school board defended their rejection of a state-ordered financial and academic recovery plan Thursday, and vowed to fight the state's effort to put the district in the hands of a receiver.

"We'll be fighting tooth and nail," Vice President Baltazar Rubio said Thursday during a meeting with a reporter. Board President Wanda Mann and member LaKisha Blackwell were also present.

Mann said voting for the plan would not have given the board more say over its implementation, which seems almost inevitable.

"I think we have the opportunity now to negotiate with them and sit at the table," Mann said.

The plan calls for improving student performance, creating programs, raising taxes, consolidating schools, laying off staff, and, in some cases, raising class sizes.

It was defeated Monday by a 5-4 vote; the Republican board members voted against it and the Democrats voted for it. The Democrats said they believed there would have been a chance of influencing the plan had it been adopted.

Under the legislation that led to the plan, the rejection requires state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis to ask a court to have the district taken over by a receiver. That would leave the board with only the power to levy taxes. Tim Eller, Tomalis' spokesman, said the secretary has until Monday to file a petition.

Board solicitor Leo Hackett said Thursday that when that happens, he will seek to argue in court against appointing a solicitor.

Mann said that she and the other two board members were speaking for those who voted against plan, not for the whole board. None of the members who voted for the plan was present.

One of them, Anthony Johnson, later said he was irked that the three met with a reporter without discussing it with the rest of the board.

"They don't want to respond to the community," he said. "They want to be their own little club."

Mann said she was in touch with community members, and she and the other two members suggested that the state's goal was to privatize the district.

She said that before Monday night's vote, board members tried to get the state-appointed chief recovery officer, Joseph Watkins, to make changes to the plan, but he refused.

Among the changes the three said they sought was a moratorium on opening more charter schools. They also want to keep Stetser Elementary and Smedley STEM High open, and give the district five years instead of two to meet federal progress benchmarks. Under the plan, if the district does not reach those goals in two years, the schools will go into outside management.

Watkins, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Contact Rita Giordano at 610-627-2649, rgiordano@phillynews.com or on Twitter @ritagiordano.

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