Save our schools: Harrisburg starts meetings on financial recovery

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The committee tasked with putting together a long-term plan to turn around the Harrisburg School District held its first meeting Wednesday night, calling attention to a plethora of issues confronting the cash-strapped school district.

The state declared the district to be in moderate financial recovery last year and appointed Gene Veno to serve as chief recovery officer. He’s been meeting with administrators, teachers and others in the past month with the goal of presenting a plan March 12.

“I want to look first at where money’s being spent. Can we do it better? I want to look at where money can come in from corporate leaders in the community,” said Veno.

Veno called attention to some troubling statistics facing the district. The graduation rate is 45 percent, compared to the state average of 83 percent. In 2012, 35 percent of students were proficient in math; 34 percent of students were proficient in reading.

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times rankings of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, Harrisburg is ranked 494.

“We’re 494 out of 500, and that’s not good. And, my theme is we can do better, and we will,” said Veno.

School Board President Jennifer Smallwood, Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney, teachers, community members and educators from surrounding districts are part of the committee.

Once Veno submits his report, the school board has 30 days to approve it. If the board does not approve it, the district would not be eligible for loans. The school district would not receive technical assistance. If a year goes by without the board approving the plan, the state can appoint a receiver.

“If it comes down to the fact that we don’t believe what he’s put forth is the best alternative to what we’ve been trying to accomplish, we will say no. But, it is going to be something that we do no want to do. We absolutely want to work with him as much as we can, and I do believe that he’s open to that,” said Brendan Murray, a member of the Board of School Directors.

Veno has established a website to update the community on the recovery process. You can access it by clicking here.

There will be public meetings on January 29 at 6 p.m. at Harrisburg High School and on February 21 at 6 p.m. at Camp Curtin School. The advisory committee will meet again February 7 at 6 p.m. at the district’s administrative offices on North Front Street.

York City School District has also been declared to be in moderate financial recovery. Meetings to address the district’s issues are slated to begin at the end of the month.

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