Now both the City of Harrisburg and the School District officially have recovery plans and state-appointed leaders to implement them.

On Friday, May 17, 2013, the Harrisburg School Board of Directors unanimously voted to approve the Chief Recovery Officer’s Recovery Plan issued on April 26th. To access the Recovery Plan, click here.

In the week leading up to the vote, the greatest concern School Directors seemed to have with the Plan was the inclusion of a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) position. “I feel the Superintendent is the CEO of the District,” Director Kenneth Mickens said during a May 6th Budget and Finance Committee Meeting.

He wasn’t alone in his objection. Both Directors Jennifer Smallwood and Danielle Robinson expressed similar discomfort at the position in the Recovery Plan.While Mickens requested a title change, Robinson declared, “I’m not concerned about the title. I’m concerned about the authority of the Superintendent.”


As outlined on page 42 of the Recovery Plan, a CEO will be hired to run the school district’s “administrative and financial operations,” leaving the academic initiatives to Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney.

While there wasn’t objection to this divide of duties, the issue was one of jurisdiction. The CEO does not answer to the Superintendent, but rather to the School Board and the Chief Recovery Officer. In fact, the Plan describes the two positions—CEO and Superintendent—as “co-equal.”

There are strict benchmarks the superintendent will need to make in the Recovery Plan to demonstrate progress of implementation. Veno told the concerned directors that the CEO will relieve Knight-Burney to accomplish her mandated goals. “I don’t want this Plan to be voted down because of the pecking order issue of the CEO,” he said. Veno also went on to say, “If page 42 is the only issue, then I did a good job.”

Although no director publicly stated opposition to the cost of a CEO, which page 42 explains, some teachers did, questioning how the Plan include 5% cuts to staff salaries and benefits for two years but also include the additional position.

The recruitment and first three years of salary for the CEO will be funded by the Financial Recovery School District Transitional Loan of $6.44 million, which will also be the source to jumpstart several other initiatives such as the changes to the Cougar Academy Cyber School and the “rightsizing” of the school buildings. This rightsizing includes consolidating buildings to reconfigure the K-8 setup and transportation costs associated with this.

This Transitional Loan was not available to the district if the School Board of Directors had voted down the Recovery Plan.

For more coverage of the May 17th vote, see PennLive’s Emily Previti’s article: Harrisburg School District approves recovery plan, secures $6.4M loan

Immediately after the approval, Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno released the following Action Items declaring these steps must begin immediately in order to propel the Recovery Plan forward.

As released by Gene Veno, Harrisburg School District Chief Recovery Officer:

My recovery plan is designed as a roadmap to academic improvement while stabilizing district finances – without closing a single building, furloughing a single teacher, cutting a single sport or eliminating a single arts class in 2013-14.  We must act now, and I intend to start with these action items.  We can do better, and we will!

Action Items:

1. Meet immediately with the Harrisburg School District insurance broker. I would like to hold the vote on the health care benefits contract. I am looking to cut $1 million in health care costs and maintain benefits.

2. Meet with unions immediately to begin ratifying agreements.

3. Make sure social workers are certified so we can begin drawing ACCESS funds.  Request a report on certification of district social workers.

4.  Ensure that principals are certified for levels they are administering (no Elementary Certification at Senior High Level)

5.  Evaluate Assistant Principals.  Why not establish title of Dean of Education instead of Principal?

6.  Change system allowing a simple passing grade immediately. Staff directed to review, revise and advise a timeline for implementation.

7.  Determine ways to ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills they need before moving to next grade level.

8.  Publicize middle school reorganization showing why this is a good plan for students.

9.  Research if a grades 5-8 configuration is BEST middle school plan prior to making change.

10.  Determine if early retirements would reduce cost to district.

11.  Call for round-the-clock meetings to bring the budget in balance. Harrisburg School Board has a ways to go in balancing its budget.

12.  Commence meetings in July with all bond holders to address bond debt.

13.  Commence negotiations with Capital Head Start in July for the 2013-14 programs. We need a curriculum that meets the needs of our K-3 classes. I will also consider bringing back K-3-4 in the HSD.

14.  Request additional funds from the no interest financial recovery transitional loan allotment when submitting plan to Secretary of Education for final review and approval.

15.  Expand cyber schools to all grade levels (K-12).  A time line for implementation is needed from administration.

16.  Publicize the buildings which are for sale.

17.  Schedule meeting immediately with EL Realty to terminate lease at administration building.

18.  Conduct a feasibility study to ascertain if Lincoln Elementary is the best location for the HSD Administration Office.  The relocation needs to be completed sooner than 2014, and we should conduct an analysis in placing Alternative Education Classes in the Administration Building.

19.  Ensure that the NRG heating/cooling system will work prior to commencement of August classes.  I want a report immediately.

20.  Ensure all classes will have books in place one month prior to school start date.

21.  Secure grants immediately.

22.  Begin parent involvement immediately.  We need programs established by both school administration and community.

23.  Identify and publicize what the Harrisburg School Foundation can do for our schools.

24.  Meet with the Rotary Club to discuss how they can do more for our children.

25.  Meet with Chamber of Commerce president to encourage business leaders to step up and do more for the HSD.

26.  Meet with all non-profits to seek their financial and in-kind assistance for our children in need.

27.  Meet with all corporations doing business in the city.  We need transportation assistance, computers and support for after school programs/equipment.   I want each corporation and employees to ADOPT AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL or ADOPT JOHN HARRIS. Corporate leaders and their employees need to reach out and help us.

28.  Find funding for one or two musical play to be held at John Harris in 2013-14.

29.  Make sure yearbooks are ordered and this issue is behind us.