New proposal could give state more control of Harrisburg School District

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- As Senate Democrats try to prevent the Republicans from passing their state budget proposal, another partisan fight at the Capitol is taking place involving the Harrisburg School District.

During a late Sunday session, the Senate passed SB6. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), passed by a vote of 27-22. It would give the state increased control over under-performing schools by creating an "Achievement School District," led by a government-appointed official.

Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry) disagrees, both with Republican leadership's assessment and the nature in which the bill was presented. Teplitz says he tried to issue an amendment to SB6 on the Senate floor Sunday night for the bill to include language exempting Harrisburg schools. Teplitz says he was told the original bill would eliminate schools with recovery plans in place from being taken over by the state. Harrisburg is in the process of acquiring a new Chief Recovery Officer after Gene Veno announced his resignation in May.

"I simply tried to insert four words into the bill to fix their drafting error," Teplitz said. "I believe (Republicans) are paranoid of letting me accomplish any legislative achievement and its reached absurd levels of pettiness."

Those words are "or Chief Recovery Officer," which would have been inserted into the bill to exempt Harrisburg, which according to Senate leadership, currently has eight schools which qualify for the Achievement School District. Teplitz believes, contrary to his GOP counterparts, Harrisburg would be better served with someone working closely with the school on a daily basis.

"That is very different than a super school district run by leadership of the General Assembly," he said. "That is not a recipe for success."

Jennifer Kocher, chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre), said she's not sure where Sen. Teplitz was told of the plan to exempt any schools from the plan.

"Senate Bill 6 actually helps Harrisburg schools," Kocher said. "Those students will all get extra focus to help them succeed. This provides parents with the resources they need to better their child's education."

Teplitz said after Harrisburg was put under a state-run umbrella, test scores at the schools went down. The bill could still be vetoed by Governor Wolf or Teplitz's amendment language could end up in a similar bill should it get brought up in the House.

"When it comes to what's best for the kids of the Harrisburg School District and whether they should be subject to a Republican-led school district whose board meets twice a year and was established in the middle of the night," Teplitz said. "I'm not taking any chances."

The Harrisburg School District declined comment for the story.