The Tomalis report
On Tuesday, March 13, 2012, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis introduced a 41-page report called “Report and Recommendation Regarding Funding for District and Charter Schools Serving Children in the Chester Upland School District,” or CUSD. The report outlined in detail the fiscal condition of Chester Upland School District and made recommendations on how to fund the district through the end of the school year.
However, little mention was made of long-term solutions to the fiscal problems of CUSD as well as its relationship to the charter schools. Tomalis’ report comes in response to the January 17, 2012 court order that Tomalis submit a report outlining the school district’s budget plan for the remainder of the school year.
According to the report, the courts do not have the power to force the State Legislature to allocate additional state funding to CUSD. About $26.4 million remains in the state allocation to the district, from the total $69.6 million for the 2011-2012 school year. Thus, the district must work with the state funding that they have.
The report encouraged CUSD, Widener Partnership Charter School, Chester Community Charter School, and the cyber charters that serve Chester to “thoroughly examine and vet their expenses, making difficult financial decisions and exercising fiscal austerity.” It asked all of the district’s charter schools to drastically reduce their expenses.
Additionally, the report called for a third-party executor to manage Chester Upland’s expenses for the remainder of the school year. It also called for delay of certain payments until the next fiscal year, a recommendation that was strongly opposed by Acting Assistant Superintendent of CUSD Thomas Persing, who said that it would contribute to the district’s long-term financial problems.
How the report allocated the money:
$6.65 million to creditors and non-charter subsidy deductions, including payments to the Delaware County Intermediate Unit.
$6.42 million to Community Charter.
$1.14 million to Widener Partnership.
$1.01 million to various cyber charters.
$12.47 million to Chester Upland, which excludes a $3.02 emergency payment issued last week to cover the March 14 payroll.
Full story: State says ‘Fiscal austerity’ needed in CUSD
These figures add up to $27.69 million. The difference between this figure and the $26.4 million will be made up by the state empowerment fund, according to Tomalis.
The Piccola proposal
Also on March 13, 2012, State Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin) introduced a bill calling for an office of financial recovery for struggling school districts. The bill comes as a result of Senate Education Committee hearings; Piccola is the chairman of this committee.
Under this legislation, school districts would enter “financial recovery status” — declared by the state education secretary — and be given a chief recovery officer to guide them through the process. Possible solutions for such districts could include teacher layoffs, conversion to charter status, and even interest-free loans from the state Department of Education.
Unlike the Tomalis report, Piccola’s bill focuses on long-term solutions to school funding problems such as those that have occurred in Chester. His bill could also be applied to other struggling school districts across the state.