Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Corbett Asked to Aid Poor Schools Bipartisan Effort Pursues Workable Plan for Distressed Districts

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Corbett Asked to Aid Poor Schools Bipartisan Effort Pursues Workable Plan for Distressed Districts

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- As 50 placard-holding students from the ailing Chester Upland schools looked on, Republican and Democratic senators urged Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday to develop a workable plan to aid financially distressed school districts.

"We need a plan, Mr. Secretary; we need a plan," Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, told state Education Secretary Ronald Tomalis. "It's time to end the finger-pointing and the blame game. Taxpayers are fed up with the increasing costs of public education. They see it every July when their school tax bill arrives."

Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, was even more blunt. "This administration is trying to destroy public education in the poorest districts," such as Chester Upland [outside Philadelphia], Duquesne schools and others, he contended. "This administration isn't serious about education of the poor in Pennsylvania."

The Chester Upland students asked legislators for more funding for their schools. The district recently said it would have to shut down in the middle of the school year without additional state funds. It filed suit in federal court, and teachers agreed to work without pay.

One of those teachers, Sara Ferguson, was invited to sit in the First Lady's box at Tuesday's State of the Union address. Ms. Ferguson teaches literacy and math, and she said at the time teachers announced they would work without pay, "We are adults; we will make a way. The students don't have any contingency plan. They need to be educated, so we intend to be on the job."

Mr. Tomalis said the administration cares about all students, pointing to its recent agreement to give Chester Upland an additional $3.2 million to keep schools open through Feb. 28. However, that money resulted from a federal suit filed by Chester Upland parents after the state initially refused to help the district.

The day it was filed, Mr. Corbett blamed local officials in the 3,700-student Delaware County district for its financial woes. In a radio interview, Mr. Corbett said the state had come to the aid of the beleaguered Chester Upland district for many years but that it could not "continue to bail out one school district just because they don't know how to control spending their money."

The district has blamed its situation on state funding cuts and the fact that it has lost almost half its students to charter schools.

"We will advance that money to the district," Mr. Tomalis said Tuesday, adding that another $20 million in state funds is likely to come to keep schools open through June.

But Mr. Piccola said that's only a short-term solution. Other senators said the problem with financially distressed schools goes far beyond Chester Upland, pointing to Duquesne, Sto-Rox and Steel Valley in the Pittsburgh area; Erie schools; Harrisburg and a nearby district, Steelton-Highspire; and Reading, York, Lancaster and Allentown. …

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