By David Madden

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CHESTER, Pa. (CBS) — The Pennsylvania Education Department has shot down a request from the Chester-Upland School District for an advance on state funding the district says it needs to meet payroll after the end of the month.

State education secretary Ronald Tomalis, responding to Chester-Upland board president Wanda Mann’s letter of last week, rejected the bid for an $18.7-million infusion of funds.  In his reply, he says the board “has failed to understand the District’s operations and its finances.”

And besides, Tomalis said, the state has given Chester-Upland more than $31 million in extra funding over the last eight years, including $9.5 million just this year.

Bottom line, Tomalis cites the board’s responsibility for “all aspects of the governance and operation of a school district.”

Read full letter by Education Secretary Tomalis to Chester-Upland school board (.pdf format)

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District officials had warned of potential major cuts without the advance funding, which could, at worst, include the shutdown of schools (see previous story).

Chester-Upland school board president Wanda Mann issued a scathing statement this morning in response to Tomalis’ letter.  It said,

“As much as I always welcome outreach from the secretary of education concerning our school district, my letter regarding our payroll crisis was not addressed to him. I wrote a detailed letter to Governor Corbett -– from one elected official to another –- on behalf of the constituents that he and I both serve in Pennsylvania who are deeply worried about whether or not they will be paid after this month. This is an urgent matter of people’s livelihoods and the continued operation of our school district that most certainly warrants and deserves the attention of our governor.

“Secretary Tomalis’ letter does not even begin to identify a solution to this devastating financial situation. It completely ignores the reality that this crisis is the inevitable result of a 15-year build up that just happens to have come to a head during this elected school board’s period of governance. In his letter, he attributes blame without making even the slightest mention of the fact that he, too, had financial oversight of this district as its receiver for the entire 2010-2011 school year.

“Having had that level of direct involvement in the district’s finances, Secretary Tomalis knows as well as I do from a firsthand perspective that this elected board most certainly did not create this problem. Any suggestion that it did is outrageous. I will work tirelessly to correct this situation on behalf of our students, their families and all of those who elected me to serve but I cannot and will not accept responsibility for it.

“I will limit my comments regarding Secretary Tomalis’ letter to these statements and continue anxiously awaiting, along with the rest of the Chester Upland School District community, Governor Corbett’s response to the letter I wrote to him. I made a very specific solution-oriented request to the governor and respectfully and enthusiastically look forward to his reply.”

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