More than 250 parents, teachers and community activists turned out at Chester High School last night to tell the board that runs the troubled Chester Upland School District what they thought of a proposal to cap charter school enrollment at its current level.
A vote is expected next week, board Chairman C. Marc Woolley said.
The resolution to limit charter enrollment to 2,573 students was announced last month by the board, which says the charters are draining money from the regular school system. The board was recently appointed by the Rendell administration to replace a Republican-dominated board that last year approved of large-scale charter expansion.
Right now, 2,566 children, or 38 percent of the students in the district, are enrolled in three charter schools. There are no charter high schools, so almost half of the students in grades kindergarten to eight are in charters.
Woolley told the crowd that without the cap, the charters, which cost the district about $25 million in direct payments this year out of an $84.6 million budget, would cost $5 million more next year and a total of $156 million during the next five years. Charter expansion would not leave enough money for the regular public school children, he said.
More than 25 speakers debated the issue. Emotions ran high on both sides.
"Everytime we get something good going, you come in and destroy it," said Coritha Hogans, the grandmother of two children at the Chester Community Charter school. "You should learn and listen from us parents. . . . What does cap stand for: Cruelty Against Parents."
And Heidi Wood-Tucker, the mother of a Widener Partnership Charter School first grader, said: "Look elsewhere for your money because this parent is prepared to fight for our children."
But Rochean Cofield, the mother of three children in the regular district schools, said that because those schools lack resources they need, "my children are unhappy. This can be fixed by directing money back to their schools."
And Susan Byrd, a veteran Chester High teacher, said that "the children of the charters may be flourishing but the children I teach are suffering at their expense." The district is understaffed by 39 teachers this year, she said, adding that "all we need to correct a lot of the problems is money.
Charter advocates disputed the board's statements that their schools were responsible for the district's financial woes. Timothy Daniels, head of a statewide charter school coalition, said the district instead saved $2,579 per charter student because payments to the charters were less than the per-pupil expense for the remaining students.
The charter advocates also disputed the cap's legality. In a recent interview, Woolley said that because the Chester Upland District has been declared to be academically distressed and financially troubled, the state law governing it allows the board to take extraordinary steps to restore financial stability, and putting a cap on charters would be a move in that direction.