by Kevin Hart
When Bonita Davis’ husband passed away in August, she faced the same fears and anxieties that would grip any new single parent. The bills didn’t stop coming. She wondered how she would continue supporting her two children in college.
And Davis, a sixth-grade teacher in the Chester Upland School District in Chester, PA, had no idea how much worse things were about to get.
Chester Upland, one of the poorest districts in Pennsylvania, made the stunning announcement in December that, without an infusion of cash from the state, it could no longer make payroll – starting with employees’ January 18th checks. Devastating state budget cuts had rendered the district destitute and had left its teachers, support professionals and administrators with two choices – find other employment, or continue showing up to work with no certainty of when they would be paid as promised.
“In the 27 years I’ve been here, I’ve never had to worry about the possibility of a job that wouldn’t exist or children who wouldn’t have a stable place to go,” Davis said. “We’re worried about not existing.”
Fears of a mass employee exodus and school closings quickly swept through the community, and educators were inundated daily with questions from students about whether the schools would be open the following day. And that’s when something heroic happened.
At an early January meeting, members of the Chester Upland Education Association and the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association, affiliates of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the National Education Association, passed a resolution promising to stay on the job – even without pay – as long as they were individually able. The teachers and support professionals vowed to band together to keep the schools running for as long as they could.
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