Francis V. Barnes, a former Pennsylvania secretary of education, said Friday that he is resigning as receiver of the troubled Chester Upland School District, effective May 1.
Barnes was appointed chief recovery officer for the district by a Delaware County judge last July after the state sought to replace Joseph Watkins, who had attempted some unorthodox measures to save the faltering school system.
The most audacious of Watkins' proposals was a partnership with a Chinese businessman to bring a $1 billion investment into the district and community. The deal, along with Watkins' planned trip to China, was scuttled by state education officials. After that, in 2014, the state appointed Barnes as chief recovery officer to work with Watkins. Watkins left last summer for a social media firm.
Barnes, 66, informed the school board on Thursday that he was giving up the $144,000-a-year post.
In a statement Friday, he said progress has been made in Chester Upland. The district has struggled with an annual $24 million structural deficit - partly the result of paying for more than 4,000 charter school students, in addition to the 3,000 children in its own schools.
Last fall, the state went to court to amend the district's financial recovery plan and the amount it pays to charter schools, winning a reduction in its costs for special education students from $40,000 to $27,028 per child.
"Despite the tremendous financial challenges the district faces, the staff at Chester Upland School District has acquired my admiration for their work ethic and commitment to the kids," Barnes said in the statement. "Our students regularly give us reason to celebrate and honor them."
He said the Department of Education is looking for his successor. He resigned as education secretary after just eight months in 2005 to return to his previous job as superintendent of Palisades School District in Bucks County, where he lives.
Bill Riley, the board treasurer, said the time had come to end more than 20 years of state control of the Chester Upland district.
The state Education Department "sends all kinds of people to us who are supposed to be turnaround people in the district," he said Friday. "When they leave, all they've taken is a big salary and the school district appears to be in worse shape than when they arrive.
"We, as the elected board, people have entrusted us and we know we can do it," Riley said. "We know this community better than anyone they can bring from the outside. . . .
"These people don't understand the social and educational interactions here in our district. We know it. We've been advocates of it and we feel we can operate it better than an outsider."
Barnes said he had listened to the board's input and made some decisions based on it.
On a personal basis, Riley said, "we have no problem with him."
The board had not yet seen next year's budget, as the district was waiting for the state to release education funds after adopting its own budget last week, he said. Despite the lower charter-school payments, Chester Upland is likely to have a deficit next year, he said.
"We're hoping with this money coming in," Riley said, "we'll be able to really hit it in the head and knock it down."