Aided by an infusion of $10.7 million in state money that was agreed to this week as part of the state budget deal in Harrisburg, the Chester Upland School District board passed a bare-bones $101 million budget Thursday night.

The board passed the budget before an audience of about 50 people.

The 3,400-student district, burdened by debt, almost ran out of money in January. It owes about $30 million in expenses incurred this year that it was unable to pay to charter schools, vendors, and the state.

The budget that was approved Thursday does not include funding to pay off that debt. District officials said they were negotiating with the state to find a way to pay it.

Even with the remaining problems, there is more cooperation between Pennsylvania officials and Chester Upland than there was in January, when it went to federal court to get funding from the state to stay open, Thomas Persing, the acting assistant superintendent, said in an interview before the meeting.

"There seems to be a very bright future compared to what it was like in January," Persing said. "We're very hopeful at this point."

The budget passed Thursday leaves things in the classrooms in the Delaware County district much as they were this school year, except that full-day prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten are being added.

Persing said that the district also would beef up its special-education program, but he had no details. Negotiations with state officials over how to achieve that are also continuing, he said.

The grade configuration of the schools will be changed, but all will remain open, he said. Some security positions have been cut.

The district will continue to have no art or music programs except at one elementary school, and no Advanced Placement or honors classes, Persing said.

The district gets about 80 percent of its funding from the state; the new budget includes a 2.7 percent tax increase, but that will bring in only a few hundred thousand dollars, business manager Robert Bruchak said.

Looming over the district is Thursday night's passage of a state law on financially distressed school districts that will likely send a "recovery officer" to Chester Upland to craft a new financial plan.

That could change everything that is now in the works, Persing said. "So we're only speculating on what the future will be. We don't know. It's out of our hands."

Contact Dan Hardy
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