Harrisburg School District special meeting halted by injunction, court hearing set for Friday

HARRISBURG, Pa. --- The Harrisburg School District's issue took another hard turn Thursday night.

A special meeting scheduled for Thursday night was cancelled before it started.

On Monday, the state Department of Education filed a receivership petition to take over the district, citing the districts "failure to implement and fulfill key initiatives of the 2016 amended Financial Recovery Plan," which gave the district the obligation to "provide effective educational services to students and a return to financial stability."

Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera said the Harrisburg school administration and board "utterly failed" and "refused" to take action necessary to meet the 2016 Financial Recovery Plan.

After the special meeting was scheduled, saying it would include votes on "personnel and other business matters that come before the board," the Department of Education filed an emergency motion to stop the meeting.

It aimed to prevent the Harrisburg School District from creating new or terminating existing personnel contracts that could "impact a receiver's ability to effect meaningful change."

After the Harrisburg School District solicitor, James Ellison, refuted the motion, school board member Carrie Fowler said the Dauphin County Sheriff's Office served an injunction.

It stopped any meeting from taking place.

Fowler said "personnel actions, contracts, and memorandums of understanding" were on the agenda, with no "attachments" involved.

She said the executive session was going to determine what was going to be discussed at the meetings.

She said the specifics of the meeting are unclear.

“This is just completely craziness. I never expected to walk into an executive session and see two sheriffs come in fifteen minutes later with guns…I’m like “what the hell?”…but this is just insane.It’s time that we start putting our children first, our educators first, stop with the nonsense. Let’s start cooperating and working with with PDE instead of continuously telling them we don’t have to listen to you, we’re going to do what we want, no matter what you say to us and it’s time we start moving this district forward and complying with the rules,” said Fowler.

She said she is against receivership, citing faith in the five newly-elected members of the school board.

However, she said she "absolutely understands" how the state's "hands are tied, at this moment."

Michele Rolko, vice president of the Harrisburg Education Association and an elementary physical education teacher at Downey School, said they're happy a special meeting didn't happen.

She said fellow educators are now taking the situation one day at a time as it develops under the looming unknown of possible receivership.

“We’re trying to retain people and we’re trying to hire people and we need to make sure our kids are getting their education. So if you don’t have those folks in those particular positions because they’re leaving or they’re new, it does impact the kids,” said Rolko.

Tisha Barber said her daughter, who will be graduating next year, is keeping close watch on the situation as she worries for what could happen to her future.

“Whomever is taking over the school district, either way, I want them to be about the kids in this district and their staff because it just seems, to me, it’s personal, a lot of stuff. I want it to be more so about the kids because that’s more important,” said Barber.

Fowler said the district has "nothing prepared" for the 2019-2020 school year, saying they should be focused on the budget, a loss in federal funds, reserves and the curriculum as opposed to the constant administrative "fires."

“What the Harrisburg School District is obligated to do is provide a quality education for its children and we have completely lost focus on that. That is not even a priority anymore and that’s evident with every board meeting," said Fowler.

The hearing on the injunction is scheduled for Friday at 1:45 p.m. in front of Judge William Tully at the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

After Harrisburg School District officials said it needs more time to prepare itself for the receivership petition hearing, that hearing is scheduled for Monday, June 17.

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