Harrisburg teachers and students on Monday demanded school board members tell them what they plan to do now that more than $11 million has been found in the budget.
“Members are on the street now, who unfortunately are on unemployment and don’t have benefits because somebody couldn’t add or subtract in this district. Somebody needs to be held accountable,” said Sherri Magnusson, a teacher and head of the district’s union of teachers.
Peggy Morningstar, the district’s new chief financial officer who’s been on the job about seven weeks, took another look at last year’s budget and found the district ran an $11.5 million surplus, not a deficit as had been thought.
When the fiscal year ended in June, school board members and the district’s state-appointed chief recovery officer, Gene Veno, believed there was a deficit of about $4.45 million. When Morningstar gave the numbers another look, she found administrators had overestimated the cost of a wide variety of things, such as utility bills, employee benefits and school supplies.
Veno said Monday he was frustrated by the inaccurate numbers that were provided to him. He added the financial side of his recovery plan would have to be “recalibrated” to reflect the change.
“The last three business managers got it wrong. Simple as that,” Veno said.
He said he plans to have an updated plan in 10 days.
The school board voted this spring to raise property taxes and cut some educational programs as part of the financial recovery plan.
Teachers agreed to various concessions in this year’s contract, including salary cuts and increases in how much they pay toward benefits. The pay cuts will save the district about $2.5 million this year.
Several teachers asked the school board to restore their salaries to last year’s level now that this surplus has been discovered.
Some board members said if the surplus is verified to be accurate they would support giving the teachers more money. Other board members said they’d like to give the teachers a more favorable contract next year.
Board President Jennifer Smallwood suggested the district “put money aside so that you don’t have to take a cut next year.” Several people in attendance laughed at the idea.
Veno said he wanted to open discussions with the union once his plan has been updated.
In the meantime, an external audit of the district is being done. It’s expected to wrap up by the end of December.