Since taking over for Republican Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr., on Jan. 3, Democratic Chester Mayor John Linder has been addressing the key issues plaguing the city, education, crime, and jobs.
In 2000, the Chester Upland School District (CUSD) was declared financially distressed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), resulting in a state takeover. In 2007, PDE issued a declaration stating that the Special Board of Control of the CUSD had operated the district well enough to re-establish a good financial structure.
The Special Board of Control was later replaced by a three member Empowerment Board of Control to address the district’s poor educational performance while managing its fiscal condition.
In 2010, the Education Empowerment Act expired, and the elected board assumed leadership of the district.
On July 30, a settlement was reached in the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia’s class action litigation against PDE and state officials on the issue of whether the Chester Upland will be able to stay open and provide services for students with disabilities in accordance with federal law in the 2012–13 school year. The commonwealth will provide the Chester Upland district with $20.5 million to eliminate existing operating debt, and an additional $9.7 million for the 2012–13 school year.
Linder, who was the former headmaster of the Village Charter School in Chester, and helped the school come out of a $1.9 million deficit, believes the district can go in the right direction if it changes its approach.
“The school district and the city are separate entities, so I don’t have control over the district,” Linder said. “With the charter, I was able to take that structure, look at it, and change it. The district will have to be in the position to start controlling some things. The teacher involvement level has to be changed around, the parents have to be involved, and the administration has to protect the teachers.
“I’ve written a letter to the state asking them to give the district to me, since I have a history of dealing with situations like this; but the state didn’t see it that way. I will continue to support the district, and assist in any way I can to ensure excellent education for our kids.”
In June, a team of federal and local law enforcement agencies captured 23 fugitives in Chester. The fugitives were wanted for an array of charges including attempted murder, rape, robbery, assult and terroristic threats. The operation included Chester police, U.S. Marshals, Delaware County sheriffs, Chester Township police, Delaware County detectives and state parole officers.
The operation was phase one of a three-phase crime initiative. The second phase entails gathering information needed to help detectives solve violent crimes, and the third phase would ostensibly give the streets back to the residents of Chester.
Between January 1 and June 30, eight people have been murdered and 56 people were shot in Chester. 110 guns have been taken off the streets and 50 suspects have been arrested for shootings. By the end of the year, there will be an additional 16 police officers working the streets in Chester.
“We have been putting the pressure on street crime,” Linder said. “We have been having a lot of shooting incidents, but not a lot of deaths. The community liaison department has been going out into the streets and talking to the people in the community about the violence. They are also handling the listening sessions with the community, so that we can get the residents’ feedback on what needs to be done to cease the violence.
“In addition to trying to eradicate the crime in the city, we are reaching out to the residents who have been affected by the violence. We have a partnership with Crozer to help residents start the healing process. You have generations of families that have been touched by violence, but have yet to heal from it. We are doing everything that we can to provide a safe environment for our children and our residents.”
Chester’s unemployment rate is 11.6 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. City Council is striving to revitalize the city through various projects and partnerships with local organizations. Some of the projects include a port facility on the Delaware River, Deshong Park, which will include a museum geared to culture and the arts, and a strip mall near Highland Avenue. The strip mall project will be of particular importance to Chester residents in public housing, who will be trained to work for the businesses opening up there.
“When unemployment is high, we need to increase the level of training in the community,” Linder said. “When Harrah’s and PPL Park came to Chester there were a lot of high expectations for bringing more jobs to the residents in the city, but a lot of people weren’t prepared for the job. We’ve had interview programs, but we need to bring back vocational training. We just have to have community training and job readiness, so that people will not only know how to get a job, but also a career. The high unemployment rate in the city can be turned around, and there will be more job opportunities for our residents in the future.
“I know a lot of residents have invested in us, and I’m just asking that the residents will stick to this commitment with us. Change will come to Chester. We have a lot more ideas and projects that will come to fruition in the future and the residents will see the results of their investment. We’re not where we need to be, but we will get there.”