The Chester Upland School District in Delaware County, Pennsylvania suffered a serious setback when Gov. Tom Corbett (R) slashed $900 million in education funds from the state budget. The cuts landed hardest on poorer districts, and Chester Upland, which predominantly serves African-American children and relies on state aid for nearly 70 percent of its funding, expects to fall short this school year by $19 million.
Faced with such a shortage of funds, the school district informed its staff that it will not be able to pay their salaries come Wednesday. So the teachers decided to work for free. As one teacher put it, students “need to be educated, so we intend to be on the job”:
At a union meeting at Chester High School on Tuesday night, the employees passed a resolution saying they would stay on “as long as we are individually able.”
Columbus Elementary School math and literacy teacher Sara Ferguson, who has taught in Chester Upland for 21 years, said after the meeting, “It’s alarming. It’s disturbing. But 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.”
The school board and the unions separately begged Corbett to provide financial aid for the district, but Corbett turned each request down. Pennsylvania’s Education Secretary Ron Tomalis told the board that it “had failed to properly manage its finances and would not get any additional funds.” Chester Upland was forced to lay off “40 percent of its professional staff and about half of its unionized support staff before school began last fall.” That leaves 200 professionals and 65 support staff to manage a school with class sizes of over 40 students.
Chester Upland is not the only district desperately trying to stay afloat. Corbett’s cuts forced one school district to enforce wage freezes and cut extracurricular activities and another turned to actually using sheep instead of lawnmowers to cut grass at two of its schools. As ThinkProgress’s Travis Waldron pointed out, Corbett could relieve school districts if he let special interest groups like tobacco and the oil and gas industry go without their tax breaks. But he seems to prefer allowing teachers to go without pay.