Q. How many pupils attend the Chester Upland School District (CUSD)?

A. As of early October 2012 the district reported having 2,871 pupils.

Q. Does all of CUSD’s budget support its schools?

A. In addition to five elementary schools, a middle school, and two high schools, the CUSD also provides funding for three charter schools. As of early October 2012, 3,460 students attend charter schools. .

Q. What is House Bill 1307?

A. Called the School District Financial Recovery Law, House Bill 1307 is legislation designed to help financially distressed schools and ensure education for the students of these schools.

Q. Does the Chester Upland school district qualify as “distressed?”

A. Yes. Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis designated Chester Upland’s financial recovery status as “severely distressed” in August 2012.

Q. Do other school districts in Pennsylvania qualify as “fiscally distressed?”

A. Only nine districts can be in financial recovery status at any one time under the law. Four urban districts including the CUSD have received preliminary declarations as districts in financial recovery as of October 1, 2012.

Q. What does this law, House Bill 1307, provide?

A. The law establishes a state oversight process. Under the new law, the state will provide management assistance to develop and implement recovery strategies and also can offer certain financial aid through a loan program.

Q. When was House Bill 1307 signed into law?

A. Governor Tom Corbett signed House Bill 1307 into law on July 12, 2012, and it is now designated at Act 141 of 2012.

Q. What is a Chief Recovery Officer (CRO)?

A. Declaring a district in financial distress triggers the appointment by the state Secretary of Education of a qualified individual to develop a recovery plan. This person carries the title of Chief Recovery Officer.

Q. Does the Chester Upland School District have a CRO?

A. Education Secretary Ron Tomalis appointed Joe Watkins as Chief Recovery Officer. Watkins is required by the new law to present a plan to the school board within 30 days of his appointment. On October 16 the state Secretary of Education granted CRO Watkins a second 30-day extension to prepare a comprehensive academic and financial recovery plan for CUSD.

Q. What type of background does Watkins have for this role?

A. Joe Watkins is currently the pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. Watkins served as an assistant to the president of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a former associate director of public liaison on the White House staff of George H.W. Bush and assistant state director on the U.S. Senate staff of Senator Dan Quayle. He served as the managing director and principal for MDL Capital Management and worked as a government relations professional at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, one of the nation’s largest law firms. Recently he was chairman of Students First, a school choice political action committee.

Q. Will CRO Watkins develop this plan himself?

A. He is working with a collaboration of partners which includes the school board, parents, teachers and other school staffers, the school board and other community leaders to lay the foundation for turning the district around and ensuring all children have the opportunity to achieve academic excellence. The state also provides him with a technical assistance team to review the CUSD’s budget and help determine the financial viability of different recovery options. He hosted a series of five public meetings through October 16 and will schedule additional meetings soon. More information about those meetings can be found on the Public Meetings page of this website.

Q. What are the objectives of the plan?

A. The recovery plan will establish a framework for leading the district into financial solvency and position it for academic success. The plan will be prepared to ensure doors remain open and pupils continue to be educated.

Q. What are the objectives for our children?

A. Each of our children must be equipped with the skills not only to meet the state performance standards, but to graduate and to go to college or trade school.

Q. What types of things will be included in the CRO’s plan to the school board?

A. To build a framework that will serve as the guide to the successful recovery of the school district, CRO Watkins will start with a financial baseline, see how much money is coming into the district and what the needs are. The plan will be a starting place in determining how to best meet those needs. The plan will be revised as needed when it is put into action.

Q. How can a plan be developed if the district is in financial distress?

A. CRO Watkins is open and committed to thinking “outside the box.” Starting with a financial baseline, assessing needs, determining how much money comes into the district through public funds, there is nothing stopping the planners from considering raising private money.

Q. How can private money be raised?

A. It might be possible to reach out to philanthropists as part of the plan to ensure the children have the tools they need to learn and to thrive in these public schools.

Q. What is the timeframe for developing the plan?

A. The law requires the plan to be presented to the school board within 30 days of the appointment of Watkins, which was August 17. As permitted by the law, he asked state officials for a 30-day extension, which was approved. On October 16 the state Secretary of Education granted CRO Watkins a second 30-day extension to prepare this comprehensive academic and financial recovery plan.

Q. Why was an extension of the deadline granted? 

A. Watkins requested additional time to fully examine all available information. He and his financial recovery team identified issues that significantly affect the district and require more time to thoroughly consider. It also allows additional community input into what is needed.

Q. What happens after the plan is presented?

A. The elected school board must vote within ten days of November 15 to accept or reject the plan. If the board accepts the plan the CRO submits a copy of the plan to the Secretary of Education within five days of the board’s approval. Within ten days of the CRO’s submission of the plan to the secretary, the secretary shall approve or disapprove the plan in a written statement.
If the secretary disapproves the plan, he will provide a written statement stating the reasons for disapproval with recommendations for revisions to the plan. The CRO shall develop a revised plan within 20 days of receiving the secretary’s written statement disapproving the plan and submit the revised plan to the board and secretary for approval.

Q. Will the parents and other interested members of the public have any opportunities to provide input into the plan? When will the public hear the details of the plan?

A. A series of five forums were held through October 16 for the Chester Upland School District community to discuss the financial and academic recovery declaration for CUSD and explain the procedure for developing and implementing a financial recovery plan. The forums were hosted by Chief Recovery Officer Joe Watkins and were open to the public as follows:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. at Community Baptist Church, 325 W. 7th Street, Chester
  • Thursday, Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. at Providence Baptist Church, 1100 West 2nd Street, Chester
  • Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at Chester High School, 232 West 9th Street, Chester
  • Saturday, Oct. 13 at 9 a.m. at Toby Farms Intermediate School, 201 Bridgewater Road, Brookhaven
  • Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at Chester High School

Q. With the 30-day extension recently granted, will additional forums be held for parents and other interested members of the public to have opportunities to provide input?

A. Yes. Stay tuned for further details.

Q. Where can I get more information?

A. Videos of the meetings are posted on the website:, and you can also get more information by contacting Christina Coleman, Assistant to Joe Watkins at 215-557-1259.