Chester Upland hikes taxes; budget hole remains

Posted: July 09, 2014

The struggling Chester Upland School District adopted a $118 million budget Monday that raises taxes by 3.4 percent, but a $12.3 million shortfall lingers, according to state-appointed receiver Joe Watkins.

As the district continues to grapple with financial and academic problems, Watkins said he hoped to close the gap with help from the state.

"We are in the process of righting this ship and are confident that we will succeed," he said, noting that the 3,000-student district shaved $6.2 million from the preliminary budget to narrow the spending gulf.

The plan represents a decrease of $4.3 million, or 3.5 percent, from this year's budget, but school officials say academic programs will not be curtailed.

Savings have come from 17 administrative layoffs, a scaled-back facilities budget, and teachers who accepted early-retirement incentives. Officials did not say how many teachers were affected.

The sale of two former school buildings will bring in $3.7 million, $700,000 of which will go toward a fund for maintenance and renovation projects at Chester High School, where last winter a heating system broke down during a cold spell.

The district is expecting to receive a $59 million education subsidy and $688,000 Ready to Learn grant. Like other districts, it faces a substantial increase - 23.6 percent - in the employer's contribution rate to public employees' pensions, a total of $861,000, along with a $1 million increase in health premiums.

Despite the bad financial report, Watkins maintains that the district has achieved success in the last year, including a reduction in school violence.

New for the 2014-15 school year will be a prekindergarten summer reading readiness camp, and additional advanced placement classes at the high school. There will also be continued emphasis on improved reading skills in the elementary schools.

610-313-8232 @kathyboccella

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