Harrisburg schools recovery plan meeting sets stage for employees’ union negotiations

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HARRISBURG - School administrators held a final meeting Thursday night to answer questions about the Harrisburg school district's amended recovery plan.

The meeting put an added sense of urgency upon negotiations the district will continue with the Harrisburg Education Association on Friday at 10 a.m., with the union seeking a contract after going more than 1,400 days without one.

It focused on the financial aspects of the recovery plan, and school employees brought plenty of questions forward.

Some focused on individual issues like this one from a nurse at Foose School: "How are we going to address the increased pressure on the nurses to be free health clinics with no staff and a budget of $500 in each building?"

Chief recovery officer Dr. Audrey Utley said the district should take a look at that issue in the upcoming budget hearings.

Others dealt with the big picture issues facing the district and the union, dating back to years ago, when the union voted to cut its pay and benefits.

"I don't trust you," Donald Reisch, a teacher, told district officials. "I was told you were $6 million in the hole when I voted to take a pay cut, and it turned out you were $12 million in the black and then it turned out to be $33 million."

Reisch was referring to the district's fund balance, which the district says is strong, but due to projected deficits in future years, claims additional funds will be needed to bring the district back to desirable staffing levels and to limit turnover.

"We cannot go back, turn the clock back and deal with things that have happened," Utley said. "We can only move forward and make sure that in moving forward we treat everyone fairly."

The negotiating session between the union and district on Friday is the first of three scheduled. Other sessions are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

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