Chester-Upland teachers start school year without pay

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Teachers and support staff began the school year after agreeing to work without pay in the troubled school district. (WPVI)

The school year has officially started in the Chester Upland School District.

At Toby Farms Elementary in Brookhaven, and at Chester High School in Chester, the first day was celebrated by parents and community leaders.

But the district's financial woes were hard to ignore.

Last week, teachers and support staff unanimously voted to return to work even though the district won't be able to make payroll next week, on Sept. 9.

"These teachers are not paid, and they're still teaching us," said Chester High junior Moses Ramos.

"None of us are here to be millionaires," said English teacher Jennifer Archibald. "We're doing this for a purpose - a calling, if you will. And that hasn't changed."

The district has a long history of financial troubles and is currently under state control.

Elected officials and teachers believe a big part of the problem is the state funding formula that calculates what the district is required to pay charter schools.

"The formula we have now is not working," Chester Mayor John Linder told Action News. "We have a lot of people who majored in math, accounting. Change the formula."

Half the students in the district attend charter schools. Under the current state rules, educators say the district owes more to charter schools than it gets in state aid.

"What it has done is pitted the parents of district students against the parents of charter school students," said school board member Bill Riley. "The problem is, we're here to educate all the children."

Teachers and administrators are trying to keep students focused on their learning and on the school year ahead.

"The fact is that not one of my teachers called out today," said Chester High School Principal Constance McAlister. "The fact that I was able to get retired teachers to come substitute for my three vacancies is testament to what is good and great about this city."

While teachers are prepared to work, they do say something has to change.

They are calling on lawmakers in Harrisburg to come together to find a swift resolution.
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