Lawmakers left their parties on the sidelines to send a message to Gov. Corbett that they want the Chester-Upland school funding crisis fixed.
Nine lawmakers in all from Delaware County, from Senate Majority leader Dominic Pileggi (once the Chester mayor) to freshman Rep. Joseph Hackett signed a joint letter asking Corbett for an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
Other Republicans include Sen. Ted Erickson, Reps. Stephen Barrar, Bill Adolph, Tom Killion. Democrats are Sen. Daylin Leach and Reps. Greg Vitali and Maria Donatucci. Notably absent was Democratic Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland whose district includes the city of Chester.
We can't recall ever seeing a letter of such import - to a governor no less - that contained such a mix of bipartisan signatories.
Here are the facts as the letter writers from the Delaware County delegation put it:
As you know, the situation at Chester-Upland is rapidly becoming unsustainable. The district, one of the poorest in the state, is responsible for educating more than 3,600 students (excluding children in charter schools). Currently, it faces a debt of approximately $21 million. As of today, its bank account contains about $300,000. There are about $230,000 in outstanding checks which have been sent but not yet cashed. This would leave approximately $70,000 cash in the hands of the District. Further, the District is holding up $432,000 in checks to venders which are due, but which the District does not have the money to cover. This financial situation, as dire as it is, will only worsen in the short term as money due and owing continues to exceed incoming revenues.
Put bluntly, Chester-Upland School District is unable to pay its bills. Among the current obligations the District is unable to meet are teacher's salaries and payments to venders, including fuel to drive the school buses, maintenance for those buses, electricity, school lunches, medical insurance etc. The teachers and administrators of the District have selflessly agreed to work without pay for a short period of time as we attempt to resolve this issue. But this is obviously not a situation that is sustainable for any length of time.
They also cautioned "this is not the time to assign blame, either to the state boards of control which ran the district from 1994 to 2010, or the current elected school board which has been responsible for the past 18 months."
Stop right there. Isn't that exactly what Corbett did on The Dom Giordano show on Thursday? He blamed all of the above.
Instead the letter signatories said: "Our focus should be on the children of the district" - one of the poorest in America.
They went on to say they agree the Commonwealth cannot continue to fund a "broken system." However, the alternative at this moment is closing the doors and halting education for 3,600 students.
Then they tried to appeal to Corbett's compassionate side and made the case it was bad PR for PA.
Obviously this is a humanitarian and public perception problem that will quickly gain national attention. We have literally never faced such a situation before. While there may be some room to debate how we arrived at this moment, it seems to us that there can be no debate regarding the need to address this situation immediately and decisively.
A week ago, when Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin) and Sen. Andy Dinniman (chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee) dispatched independent volleys at Education Secretary Ron Tomalis seeking state help they got creamed with an overhead smash.
Read those letters on Capitol Ideas blog here.
Now that the ball is back in the Corbett court having been delivered this time by a bipartisan team, it will be interesting to see how the latest rally goes.
Sen. Leach reported late Friday night that there was no word yet from the governor's office.
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