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Harrisburg school board votes to accept recovery plan

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The Harrisburg  Board of School Directors voted unanimously Friday to accept the five-year recovery plan drafted by the state-appointed chief recovery officer.

The plan will go to the Pennsylvania Department of Education for approval, which is expected to lead to the school district receiving a $6.4 million interest-free loan from the state to enact the plan.

“Everybody is sharing in the responsibility. We’re going to get through this, so that greater days will be here for the district, so they won’t have those budget cuts,” said Gene Veno, the recovery officer who put together the plan.

Veno said he plans to ask the state for additional money for the district.

The plan calls for several changes to the district. Among them:

-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.

Before the school board’s vote Friday, Harrisburg teachers expressed concerns with pay cuts, questioning the ability to keep qualified teachers in the district after year of furloughs and cutbacks.

“There is still a lot of work to do to make this plan a reality in Harrisburg’s schools,” said Sherri Magnuson, president of the Harrisburg Education Association. She pointed out teachers have been working without a contract since July and said she wants to “come to closure” on that.

During Friday’s special board meeting, President Jennifer Smallwood said the plan is not perfect but called on the community to back it.

“We’ve been counted out so many times before,” said Smallwood. “We will charge ahead.”