On Monday, June 18th, the court heard testimony from the State’s expert witness, Ralph Girolamo, regarding state special education funding. Girolamo is a consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Education and worked there for 32 years as the Chief of the Department’s Fiscal Management Division before retiring in 2007. Girolamo stated that he believed Chester-Upland received adequate funding by the State to remain in compliance with state and federal law, and in his report, he made several comparisons with neighboring, financially sound school districts. Michael Churchill demonstrated through cross-examination that Girolamo’s district comparisons were unfounded because he did not take into account the number of charter schools in Chester. Under the state education funding formula, a district must pay more money for students enrolled in charters, and Chester-Upland has an unusally high number of charter schools compared to similar districts. The plaintiffs also questioned Girolamo on his basis for his claim that the district was receiving adequate funding because he did not complete a specific cost analysis of the district.
The court questioned the witness about the state’s poverty formula for distributing IDEA funds. Fifteen percent of these funds are apportioned according to a poverty factor, determined through participation in the School Free and Reduced Lunch program. Chester-Upland has high rates of poverty and thus should receive a higher percentage of these funds, but after questioning by Mr. Churchill and Judge Baylson, the specific distribution of the funds, and whether Chester-Upland receives adequate state compensation for its low local tax revenue remained unclear.