Joe Watkins - then-Gov. Tom Corbett's pick to oversee the Chester Upland schools, which the state said lacked the ability to address their financial disarray - said Tuesday that he is resigning to take a job with a new social-media company.
Watkins, who has been the district's chief recovery officer for 21/2 years, will leave Tuesday. He will become executive vice president for external affairs for ElectedFace, a website that aims to connect people to government officials in every political district in America.
Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Gov. Wolf, said state education officials will start looking for a replacement.
Watkins, whom the state tried to oust six months ago, saying he had failed to turn around the distressed Delaware County district, said he believes the schools have become safer, and offer more and better opportunities for learning.
"When you're in the role of receiver, your challenge is to do the best you can for the people you serve, and that's what I attempted to do in the Chester Upland School District," Watkins, 61, a Republican analyst regularly featured on MSNBC, said in an interview.
He said he is leaving because the new job "was too good to pass up."
"This is an opportunity for me to play a real part in an emerging global social media company," Watkins said.
ElectedFace was started by Richard H. Glanton, a Philadelphia corporate lawyer who as president of the Barnes Foundation in the early 1990s raised the international profile of the then-Main Line institution, but also had a tenure marked by controversy and litigation.
Watkins said the website is expected to launch soon from offices in Hamilton, Mercer County. It will incorporate video chat, e-mails, text, pictures, blogs, and other features that allow government officials and constituents to communicate.
Watkins, a pastor, a proponent of school choice, and a onetime candidate for lieutenant governor, was appointed Chester Upland's receiver by Delaware County Court Judge Chad F. Kenney in December 2012. He developed a financial and academic recovery plan, and has focused on its implementation.
School Board President Anthony Johnson said Watkins did his best given the district's money problems, which included paying $60.5 million to charter schools and $6.8 million for teacher pensions with $60 million in state aid.
"We don't need another receiver or recovery officer and not be given the chance to actually fix this district," Johnson said. He said it was time to return control of the district to the local board.
In November, Watkins announced a surprise plan to partner with an elite school in China, which he said would pour millions of dollars into Chester to turn low-performing schools into high-achieving academies.
He had planned to travel to China to work out the details with the potential benefactors, but the state Department of Education and other critics said the trip was a waste of money, and it was canceled.
The following month, then-acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq asked a court to remove Watkins, saying he had failed to implement a recovery plan.
After a contentious hearing before Kenney, Watkins got to keep his $144,000-a-year job, but in January, the state appointed Francis Barnes, Dumaresq's pick to replace Watkins, to counsel him. Barnes also was paid $144,000.
Even though they wanted him out, Watkins said, he had a good relationship with state education officials.
"This has been a great experience for me and a wonderful opportunity for me to have a role in the lives of young people and make a difference in improving the quality of education in Chester Upland. ... I loved it," he said.