Hearing set on bid to cut school district's charter payments

By The Associated Press | Posted - Aug. 23, 2015 at 3:31 p.m.

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MEDIA, Pa. (AP) — Attorneys will square off in a Philadelphia-area courtroom this week on a state bid to drastically cut how much a suburban Philadelphia school district pays charters for special education students and online learning.

Gov. Tom Wolf said survival of the financially troubled Chester Upland School District could depend on court approval for the cuts, which would total about $24.7 million in the 2015-16 school year.

Curbing charter school reimbursements is part of a recovery plan to reduce the district's deficits through auditing, appointment of a financial turnaround specialist and fiscal monitoring of future spending.

The Pennsylvania Coalition on Public Charter Schools has called Wolf's proposals a blatant step in "killing" charter schools at the expense of children.

Lawyers for both sides will argue the issue Monday in Delaware County Court.

More than half of all students in the district attend charter schools, and officials said the troubled district is scheduled to pay charter schools more than $40,000 per special education child, far more than other districts.

Critics argue the cost is due to unanticipated loopholes and faulty assumptions in the formula, not because special education costs more in the district.

David Clark Jr., chief executive officer of Chester Community Charter School, said last week that the district runs a deficit every year and the state "has always had to supplement and rescue them financially." Since 2010, the state has provided Chester Upland with more than $74 million in addition to its normal funding.

"So, now they want to take it from us? It doesn't make sense. ... It is very disturbing how the state wants to deal with this," he said.

A school board meeting scheduled for Thursday was postponed due to a crowd that exceeded the capacity of the room, prompting officials to reschedule the meeting for Tuesday evening at the Chester High School auditorium.

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