Sometimes something happens that is so astonishing, so breathtaking, and simultaneously so disturbing that I don’t know how to characterize it.

The public school district of Chester-Upland, Pennsylvania, is in financial trouble. It was under state control for many years. It was at one time managed by the Edison company. After years of inept state management, it was returned to local control in 2010. It has a for-profit charter school run by a politically connected millionaire that has attracted half the students in the district. The New York Times wrote about how the charter school was being sued by and losing resources to what one educator described as a “charter school on steroids.” The district went bankrupt earlier this year, and the teachers and staff worked without salaries. There have been massive layoffs and budget cuts and the facilities are in disrepair.

One way of looking at Chester Upland is that it has been brought down by state interference, state abandonment of its responsibilities, fumbled efforts at privatization, an inadequate tax base, poverty, budget cuts, and competition with a voracious charter school that sucks millions of dollars out of the underfunded public schools.

Education is a state responsibility. So what is the state doing to preserve public education for the children of Chester Upland?

Ron Tomalis, the secretary of education for the state of Pennsylvania, has appointed Joe Watkins as recovery manager for the school district. Joe Watkins is the head of the PAC in the state that advocates for school choice.

According to the local newspaper: “Watkins is the pastor of Christ Evangelical Church in Philadelphia and a Republican political analyst for MSNBC.
Watkins also is both a registered lobbyist and the chairman for Students First, an advocacy group supporting “comprehensive school choice.” Students First donated thousands of dollars to the campaign of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, according to published reports…Having since appointed Watkins as Chester Upland’s chief recovery officer, the school board now has 14 days to determine whether it will work with Watkins to develop a financial recovery plan. If the board declines, Tomalis can petition the courts to place Chester Upland under receivership. The financial recovery plan can include closing schools, cutting staff and transforming schools into charters.”

What do you think will happen to the public schools of Chester Upland?