On Wednesday, May 9th, trial in the Chester-Upland school funding lawsuit began in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Testifying for the plaintiffs were Roberk Burchak, CFO of the Chester Upland School District; Thomas Persing, acting deputy superintendent; and Michelle Chapman of the District’s Office of Human Resources.
All three witnesses told a similar story: the District is in severe fiscal crisis, and without a new funding system the District may not be able to open for the 2012-2013 school year. Mr. Burchak testified that at one point, the District, unable to afford more fuel, had to siphon diesel from buses with full tanks so that other buses could bring Chester Upland students home. Though so-called ‘critical’ vendors are being paid, many of the District’s less-pressing debts are being pushed back. The testimony made clear that while the current system is keeping services intact through the end of the school year, it simply isn’t sustainable.
When asked if he believes the District will be able to meet its legal obligations under the IDEA in 2012-2013 with the current budget, Dr. Persing’s answer was simple: “No, it cannot.”
On the second day of trial, multiple educators testified about the difficulties of teaching in a district so severely underfunded.
One teacher is required to split her weeks between two schools, even though students’ IEPs at each school requires her services every day. She told a heartbreaking story on the stand about a student who suddenly began acting out in class – throwing furniture, storming out of class, etc – when necessary supports were not provided.
As special education supervisor Mary Payne said, everyone is doing their best, but they just don’t have enough. She listed staff shortages throughout the district, and she explained that district officials told her in no uncertain terms that they simply could not afford any new employees.