As released by the Office of the Chief Recovery Officer:
6,340 REASONS TO SAY YES TO THE PLAN by Gene Veno, Chief Recovery Officer
We are all, by now, very familiar with the deep problems plaguing the Harrisburg School District. The district is on the verge of financial collapse, with a growing budget shortfall and a skyrocketing deficit. Student performance is among the lowest in the state, with fewer than half of students meeting the most basic math and reading benchmarks for their age group.
As chief recovery officer, I have been tasked with the tremendously important duty of bringing the district back to fiscal and academic health. With the help of a team of outstanding financial and academic experts, and with the active involvement of our superintendent, school board and our community, we have developed a recovery plan that will position the district to survive and thrive in the long term. If the district is to move forward into a future that is brighter and better for the children, this comprehensive and bold recovery plan must be adopted and embraced by the district.
There are many things this plan will do, and we’ve talked about them and will continue to talk about them. But I also want to focus on what it will NOT do because I think that is equally important. This plan is designed to rescue the district from financial collapse without closing a single building, furloughing a single teacher, cutting a single sport or eliminating a single arts class in 2013-14. These are the kinds of programs and services that are almost invariably placed on the chopping block when districts are at the level of financial distress that now faces the Harrisburg School District. Yet, with the financial recovery plan, the district is able to avoid these types of deep, disruptive cuts.
In creating a plan to give the district its best chance to become a high-performing, financially stable district, we were deliberate, careful, intentional and as responsive as we felt we could be to what our students and the community want and need.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to ask for sacrifice – from teachers, administrators, parents and taxpayers. I believe we all know that we must change if we want to survive as a school district, and some of the changes we must make will be painful to absorb at first.
A tax increase was unavoidable, but the plan significantly reduces the tax hike proposal currently under consideration from 9.7 percent to 3.5 percent. Faced with the need to reduce workforce costs, the plan asks all district employees for a 5 percent wage reduction in each of the next two years, rather than a 10 percent reduction in one single year. In years four and five of the plan, staff will see raises.
Academically, the plan has many education initiatives designed to improve accountability of the workforce and improve student performance. It will move the district toward a more educationally desirable reconfiguration of the current K-8 structure into elementary and middle schools, while also strengthening kindergarten and pre-K programs. It will expand the district’s Cougar Academy cyber school to grades K-12 to meet the community’s need for quality cyber-school options.
The benefits of this plan are many: it will balance the budget within three years and provide us with a sound, five-year financial management roadmap; it will give us a chief executive officer to manage operations, freeing up the superintendent to focus on academics; and it will make the district eligible for a $6.4 million interest-free loan from the state to help us get through the next few years while maintaining our staffing levels and our current school buildings.
It’s time to make our children a priority and shift the district’s focus away from its troubled finances and onto education and academics. We have the opportunity right now to meet our challenges; to become a district where failing to graduate will be the exception rather than the rule; where committed teachers will have the resources and support to be effective in their classrooms; and where every school leader will be held accountable for student performance.
We can’t afford to delay. The district’s eligibility for an interest-free state loan will be jeopardized if this plan is not approved, leaving the district financially insolvent and forced to possibly make deeper cuts in programs and services. There are too many kids who aren’t learning at levels where they should be and too many students who are failing to graduate, let alone go on to higher education.
Today, Harrisburg School District is responsible for educating 6,340 students. Those are 6,340 reasons for supporting and approving this plan when it comes before the school board for a vote.