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Chester Upland school board leaders vow to keep fighting recovery plan




by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner

Days after their controversial vote to reject an overhaul of their city's schools, leaders of the Chester Upland school board are vowing to continue fighting efforts to turn their troubled district back over to the state.

That could include a legal challenge to the state's plan to put the district in receivership by Monday.

"We find it easier to say 'no' and fight rather than to say 'yes' and have the plan be implemented,' said Chester Upland school board president Wanda Mann.

On Monday, Mann cast one of five votes against a controversial recovery plan that would have meant closing schools, slashing staff, and raising taxes. The plan was developed by Joe Watkins, who was named the district's chief recovery officer earlier this fall after the state declared Chester Upland to be in severe financial distress. Mann called the plan's requirement that all Chester Upland schools be dramatically turned around in just two years "unrealistic."

Chester Upland school board vice president Baltazar Rubio also voted against the plan, calling it a "setup."

"This plan is not crafted to help us achieve. The plan is crafted to charterize the district," Rubio said.

Rubio acknowledged that Chester Upland needs to get its finances in order and said that some parts of the plan are good. But he said the board wasn't given the opportunity to negotiate the parts it didn't like.

"If you buy a house or buy a car or enter into any kind of a contract, you read it first. And you negotiate the terms first. You don't sign it, and say, 'OK, I'll negotiate later,'" Rubio said.

State officials say they are required by law to name a receiver — possibly Watkins — to take control of the troubled school district and implement the recovery plan. That appointment is expected by Monday.

Chester Upland officials say they could seek an injunction to prevent that move or file an appeal if it goes through.

Mann says the continued drama is unfortunate, but necessary.

"It's not a game. It's our community," she said.

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