Pennsylvania Taps First School Recovery Chief in Chester

Pennsylvania named the first chief recovery officer to take charge of a school district under a law passed in June, putting former White House aide Joe Watkins in charge of the Chester-Upland system.

Watkins, now a Lutheran pastor in Philadelphia, will devise a fiscal plan for the 6,800-student district, which may include converting some institutions to charter schools. He was named to the post today by Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis.

Chester, with a $101 million budget for fiscal 2013, avoided shutting down this year after a federal court forced the state to chip in an additional $3.2 million in aid, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Under the June law, the state can put a recovery officer in charge of distressed schools. If district leaders reject Watkins’s plan, a receiver could be named. The measure also makes charter conversions easier.

“Joe is a qualified individual who has the ability to assist the Chester-Upland School District with long-term financial stability,” Tomalis said in a statement. “I am confident that Joe will provide the district with the guidance and leadership it needs.”

A recovery officer has worked for the reform commission that oversees Philadelphia’s schools, the eighth-largest system in the U.S., under a previous law.

Chester’s fiscal difficulties stemmed mainly from state-aid cuts and rising pension and special-education costs, Moody’s said this month in a report. It also cited declining revenue from property taxes.

Watkins, who has worked in asset-management and academia, was a public-liaison aide to President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, and previously served in the U.S. Senate on the staff of former Vice President Dan Quayle, the Indiana Republican, according to the statement from Tomalis.

To contact the reporter on this story: Romy Varghese in Philadelphia at rvarghese8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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