e CommonSense: Give the kids a break, Mike . . .

Friday, November 25, 2005

Give the kids a break, Mike . . .

Memo to Mike Gillin: the President Judge of the Commonwealth Court just told you that you suck. I believe his exact words were: (a) you suck; (b) you suck; and (c) you suck. Perhaps it is time to take the hint and give the kids of Chester a break.

Judge: Chester board broke law
The Commonwealth Court ruling said the panel had harmed students. Hearings begin next week.
By Dale Mezzacappa, Inquirer Staff Writer, Nov. 23, 2005

In its three years in office, the board that runs the Chester Upland school district has broken state law and done "irreparable harm" to students, a Commonwealth Court judge has ruled.

Responding to a lawsuit filed by Gov. Rendell and the state Department of Education, President Judge James Gardner Colins ordered hearings for next week to help him decide whether to put the district in receivership. That could mean it would be operated directly by the state Department of Education.

Colins found that the three-member Special Board of Control repeatedly violated the state school code by failing to balance the district's budget, hiring some unqualified teachers, maintaining inaccurate records, and not properly tracking incidents of school violence.

"In its nearly three years in office the harm to the district's students is undeniable," Colins wrote.

The ruling was a victory for the governor, who has been trying since last summer to dislodge the board and straighten out the troubled district, one of the lowest-performing in the state.

State audits have shown deepening deficits, a breakdown in accounting and inaccurate record-keeping in the 5,000-student district, which is mostly poor and African American.

Chester Upland has been operated by a state control board since 1994 when it was first declared fiscally distressed; the current board, with expanded powers, took office in January, 2003.

But Rendell is powerless to remove the board members. They were installed by his Republican predecessors for five-year terms on the eve of his inauguration, removable only for malfeasance.

In the wake of Colins' ruling, Rendell reiterated his call for the board members to resign.

"Judge Colins has concluded what I have been saying for months: The Board of Control is not doing its job, and its failures to do that job continue to irreparably, and unfairly, harm the children of Chester Upland," Rendell said in a statement. He said they should take Colins' words seriously and "resign their positions before one more child is cheated out of the education they are entitled to."

Michael F.X. Gillin, chairman of the board, said he had no intention of stepping down.

We've come this far. We think we're changing things around down there," said Gillin, Delaware County's elected Register of Wills.

Gillin also said that the board "never knowingly" violated the school code and terminated administrators who gave the board faulty information. As far as harming children, Gillin said, "I'm not in the classroom. I don't know what he means by that."

Granville Lash, another board member who has often been at odds with Gillin, said he agreed with Rendell and is trying to extract himself from the lawsuit. However, he said he would not resign as long as the other two members, Gillin and Adriene Irving, Chester City's director of public information, remain.

"I have done everything I can do to see that our children get a quality education," said Lash who said he objects to spending public money on the lawsuit. The state has to share in any blame for failure, he added.

The board has hired Jack Krill, a Harrisburg lawyer who has also represented Republican legislative leaders, to defend it against Rendell's move.

Colins issued his order late Monday. On Friday, he heard oral arguments in Harrisburg on Rendell's October motion to appoint a receiver, which would treat the district like a bankrupt company.

The oral argument was attended by a half-dozen parents and activists who filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the state's position. They are represented by the Education Law Center, a nonprofit that advocates for poor students.
"The judge is hearing the cry from the community," said Charlie L. Warren II, chairman of a group called Chester-Upland Community, Parents and Students on the Move. "Socially and educationally, for years this community has been deprived."

Warren is a retired carpenter who graduated from district schools and has four children and two grandchildren who have attended schools there.

Colins scheduled three days of evidentiary hearings for next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.


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