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Police chase, staff brawl, and money woes -- bad week for Pennsylvania school district

In a case of she said/she said, a Pennsylvania teacher and school board president accuse each other of starting a fight at school, in view of students. WCAU's Lu Ann Cahn reports.

A police chase through the elementary school cafeteria during lunch on Tuesday. A brawl between the school board president and a teacher at the high school on Wednesday. Oh yeah, and that nagging $23 million deficit that still hasn't been resolved.

It's been a rough week for the Chester Upland school district in Pennsylvania, a financially troubled school system that is regularly among the state's worst performers academically.

On Tuesday, staff at The Village at Chester Upland Elementary School thought they would let in the unusually warm weather by opening up a side door to the cafeteria, the school principal told Philadelphia's NBC10.com. The burst of spring air they were hoping for came in -- followed by a suspected burglar and police officers right behind him, authorities said.


"I saw a guy running through, and police were chasing, and we all were screaming," one student who witnessed the lunchtime chase told NBC 10.

The school was in lockdown for 45 minutes while police searched the school, NBC 10 reported. The suspect was found and arrested; no one was hurt.

Wednesday didn't go any better.

The district's school board president and a teacher had to be taken to a local hospital with scratches and other minor injuries after the two had a physical altercation in the teacher's classroom in front of students, according to NBC 10. Both women claimed the other started it.

“She shoved me and pushed me away, pushed me hard,” Board President Wanda Mann said. “It went back and forth, she started cursing. I probably said some curse words back to her.”

But high school teacher Leslye Jordan said Mann lunged at her first, reported NBCPhiladelphia.com. She told the station Mann was upset because Jordan wrote a letter to the district superintendent saying she felt unsafe at school after a student threatened her.

“It’s terrible that teachers have to go to school and not only be threatened by students, but by the president of the school board,” Jordan said.

Police are reviewing cell phone video of the fight to determine whether there will be charges filed.

Financial 'disarray'
For months, the district has been wondering if it would even have enough money to stay open for the rest of the school year.

Impoverished Chester Upland claims Pennsylvania has been denying it necessary state funds for years. State officials maintain the district got into the mess due to its own money mismanagement problems. Regardless, the district is forecast to be $23 million in debt by June if nothing is done.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania's secrectary of education filed a report in federal court outlining recommendations for funding the district. The $27.7 million proposal noted that the district's finances are "in complete disarray," and asked a state judge to appoint an outside receiver for the district, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The plan is just a bandaid solution, only solving this year's "critical expenses ... truly necessary to keep the schools open through June," according to The Inquirer.

Chester Upland depends on state aid for close to 70 percent of its funding, according to The Inquirer. When statewide budget cuts were issued last year, Chester Upland suffered. In addition, Chester Upland’s state-allocated funds go to two charter schools in the city. Earlier this year, the district filed a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania claiming that even though funds were transferred to the charter schools, demands on the district were not reduced, leading to huge financial problems.

For nearly a week in January, Chester Upland teachers, bus drivers and staff members worked for free when cash ran out, before a $3.2 million advance from the state was approved by a judge.

Sara Ferguson, an elementary school teacher in Chester Upland, told MSNBC-TV's Ed Schultz in January, "It's just unfortunate in the United States of America that a student's address and zip code can determine their worth and their right to a quality education. And I just want everyone to know that whether we got this 3.2 million dollars or not, the support staff, the teachers, the community, the parents, we are all committed to the students."

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msnbc.com's Elizabeth Chuck contributed to this report.