Veno responds to mayor’s call for replacement

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Following Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse’s announcement Thursday that he wants the city school district’s chief recovery officer replaced, Gene Veno said he’s “committed to seeing this district recover.”

Papenfuse issued a press released Thursday morning (click here), calling on the state’s acting secretary of education to replace Veno, who was appointed chief recovery officer in late 2012.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Papenfuse says his concern about Veno came from a private conversation about a month ago in which Veno expressed doubt about his recovery plan succeeding.

“He feels he is presiding over a sinking ship,” said Papenfuse.

Veno denied that was the case, saying he was trying to convey that improving the district will take time.

“We’re not a full year even into the academic recovery. And, we have almost 54 more months to go,” said Veno. “You don’t turn a district around in six months.”

The district has struggled financially and academically, ranking near the bottom of school districts across Pennsylvania in achievement.

In an email, Pa. Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said, “Gene Veno is and remains the chief recovery officer of Harrisburg School District.  He was appointed by and is accountable to the Secretary, not the mayor.  The recovery plan is relatively new, so at this point, it is difficult to assess its effectiveness.  More will be known when the new School Performance Profile scores are released in the fall and the financial part of the plan has additional time to be implemented.”

Papenfuse did not say there were certain actions Veno had failed to take as chief recovery officer.

“You have to have a recovery officer who does believe that the plan is successful. Otherwise, I’m suspicious of the entire endeavor,” said Papenfuse.

Papenfuse said he submitted names of possible replacements to Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq. Papenfuse declined to say who he suggested.

“He’s a young freshman mayor, trying to get out of the starting blocks and in any term of office it takes time. But, that’s entirely up to him, his comments,” said Veno. “My job is to work with the school district, and that’s my only job. And, I stay within my lane.”

The city and school district are governed separately.

Papenfuse also reiterated his support for Key Charter School. The district’s board voted against approving the school’s application, citing a variety of academic and budgetary concerns.

If approved, Key Charter School would take over the old Bishop McDevitt High School.

Veno said the project would cost the district about $15 million but added that did not impact the board’s decision.

The school’s leaders are seeking support through a petition on (click here).

Papenfuse also said the Pa. Attorney General’s Office is investigating the district’s finances. A spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to comment.





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