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Recovery plan for Harrisburg schools revealed

After a few of months of looking at ways to turn around the struggling Harrisburg School District, the chief recovery officer unveiled his plan Friday, calling for tax increases and wage cuts.

The plan deals with both financial and academic issues the district is facing.

Gene Veno, who was appointed by the state late last year, stressed the urgency of adopting the five-year plan. He said though the plan looks out to 2018, the next three years are critical.

“Why do I say three years? Because if the financial path of this district continues the way it has been for the last five years, there will be no district in the third year,” said Veno.

To view the plan in its entirety, click here. To view a summary prepared by the recovery officer, click here.

Veno said if nothing changes, the district’s deficit will grow from $14.4 million in 2013-2014 to $131.4 million in 2017-2018.

Among some of the steps outlined in the plan:

-A 3.5 percent increase in property taxes next year. That amounts to $9.49 per $10,000 of assessed value, Veno said. In the next three fiscal years, the increase would be capped at the Act 1 index amount and then held flat the next year.

-A 5 percent wage reduction for employees next year and the following year. In the third year, there would be a salary freeze. In the next two years, wages would increase again, 1.5 percent and then 3.5 percent in the fifth year. No educators would be furloughed.

-Reconfiguring the K-8 schools such that grades K-4 would be in separate buildings from grades 5-8. The K-4 schools would be: Downing, Benjamin Franklin, Melrose, Foose and Scott. The 5-8 schools would be: Camp Curtin, Marshall and Roland.

-Hiring a CEO to handle the business side of the administration while the superintendent is left to focus on academics.

-Placing more focus on college and career training in earlier years.

-Improving and expanding the district’s cyber school.

The leader of the Harrisburg Education Association, which represents teachers, pointed out with past cuts to staff it could be difficult to attract more quality teachers to the district if the proposed cuts are implemented.

“We have already given so much, with the wage freezes, with the furloughs,” said Sherri Magnuson, HEA president.

The school board is not obligated to implement the plan by the letter, Veno said, adding there is room for negotiations.

The plan also addresses the district’s long-term debt, which Veno said hadn’t been adequately addressed in light of the challenge of merely balancing the budget year-to-year.

“We, as a district, have been so busy keeping our heads above water that we’ve failed to see the tsunami (as we’ve coined) coming,” said Veno.

If the board adopts the plan within 30 days, the state will give the district a $6.41 million interest-free loan to help implement the changes. If the board delays its decision beyond the 30 days, the money goes away.

If by the end of the year the board does not approve the plan, the district would fall into receivership.

“Twenty years ago, the experts were saying that this was going to happen to urban schools, and no one paid attention. And we all need to get on board,” said school board member Lola Lawson. “And, I think that this is going to work. I really, really do.”

VIEW & ADD COMMENTS

3 Comments to “Recovery plan for Harrisburg schools revealed”

    Concerned parent said:
    April 26, 2013 at 9:16 PM

    Stick it to the teachers who day in and day out bust their humps to try to educate kids placed in improper classes with improper resources. These teachers took pay freezes years ago, and now they want them to just limp along for another five years. Maybe Mr. Veno should come and teach some of these kids for a few months. Maybe he'd propose something a little different. How about some administrative cuts. That's what got Harrisburg schools in ths mess.

      Al P said:
      April 27, 2013 at 7:34 AM

      If the union teachers were, as you say, "busting their humps" teaching the kids, the scores would be different. Throwing more money at a flat tire will not inflate it.

    Concerned Parent said:
    April 27, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    AI P, I'm afraid you have no clue. I'm not saying to throw money at a flat tire. The administration has created a nightmare for the teachers. Look into the class makeup and the placement f students. N emotional support kids in regular Ed classrooms making it impossible for teachers to teach. Everyone is losing because of poor decisions, not by teachers, but by administrators and the board. So, provide less of an incentive for good teachers to come to Harrisburg, give them more kids, some of which are not getting the right services because they are in the wrong classroom, and raise taxes at the same time. Don't get me wrong. As a parent, I know it s broken, and I want it fixed. But, I don't think his plan will do it. He needs to get out from behind the desk and into the trenches before he makes suggestions. And, I am not talking about a quick building walk through with the suits, either. I guess it is time for me to join the ranks of those families that move out of the district or go to cyber or charter school.

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