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Chester-Upland School District in receivership

The troubled Chester-Upland school district now is in the hands of a state-appointed receiver.

The troubled Chester-Upland school district now is in the hands of a state-appointed receiver.

With a decision today, Delaware County Judge Chad F. Kenney in effect accepted a dramatic overhaul plan for the district that limits the school board's powers to levying taxes.

Kenney granted state Education Secretary Ronald J. Tomalis' petition to place the district in receivership and accepted his recommendation to appoint Joseph P. Watkins, who was already serving as the district's state-selected chief recovery officer.

Watkins' receiver appointment goes into effect immediately and ends on Dec. 12, 2015.

"The department is pleased with the court's ruling," said state education department spokesman Tim Eller. "The next step is for the receiver to implement the recovery plan."

Last month, Watkins released a far-reaching academic and financial recovery strategy for the district. It calls for increasing scholastic achievement, luring back students who have fled the district's schools, increasing programs, and attracting private funding.

However, it also calls for closing and consolidating schools, including two of the district's higher achievers; increasing class sizes; raising taxes, and turning the schools over to external control, such as education-management companies or converting them to charter or cyber schools if they fail to met federal progress goals by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.

"I'm delighted to have the opportunity to serve," Watkins said after the ruling was issued. "I look forward to working to make this an excellent district. Now we will start to execute the recovery plan. The first order of business is to find a great superintendent who will commit to a long-term contract."

Under the state's recently enacted distressed-district law, Tomalis had to seek court approval for the receiver because the school Board rejected the state's plan.

The board's five Republican members voted against it, saying they would be bound by a plan with which they diasgreed.

The four Democrats voted for it, saying they thought that board members would be able to retain some say over its implementation.

With a receiver appointed, the board's only powers would be to raise and levy taxes.

In a hearing before Kenney last week, an attorney for the board argued against the constitutionality of the receiver law.

Republican board members could not be reached Thursday.

Democratic board member Anthony Johnson said he hopes Watkins "will look out for the best interests of the children. As long as he works with the community and parents get involved ... hopefully we'll be alright."

As a parent of a district student, he said he would continued to give Watkins his input. He said he still thinks it would have been better if the board approved the plan.

"Voting no, now you have put it in somebody's hands that's really not from the district," Johnson said.

Some board and community members have said they suspect the state's plan all along ultimately was to put the district's schools in private hands.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 610-627-2649, or on Twitter @ritagiordano.