New recovery officer vows fresh ideas for Harrisburg schools

Much like a personal trainer, the Harrisburg School District has been appointed a chief recovery officer to whip the moderately distressed district into financial fitness.

Anytime someone commits to a workout regimen, there is typically a planning state. Over the next 90 days, Harrisburg will develop a financial recovery plan to pull the cash-strapped district back from the brink of broke.

Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis has named Gene Veno to be that personal trainer. Unlike Harrisburg City's Act 47 receiver, the school has a grace period of sorts.

Veno is placed to help Harrisburg administrators and board members do financial crunches to trim the budget waistline and run miles of revenue checks to gain fiscal stamina. Veno has laced up his solvency sneakers.

“I hear you. I understand the problems your experiencing. Let's work together,” Veno said.

Dressed in a three-piece suit with glistening cufflinks, Veno looked sharp. His vision: sharper. His resume is a blend of business, education, and consulting experience. The Elizabethtown College grad earned a Master's Degree from Marywood University in Scranton. Soon after he served on the school board in Scranton, which at the time struggled through similar financial distress.

In 1989, Veno said he started his own consulting business, which has gained clients nationwide. After working with Lebanon Valley College among others, Veno was named College Educator of the Year in 2002.

The 62-year-old has lived in the Harrisburg area for a quarter-century and watched the school district's situation unfold. He believes he can bring fresh ideas.

“Ideas that will include corporate entities,” he said. “There may be ideas that may involve federal grants. There may be ideas that we have not even touched upon yet and some of the tough decisions that could come from all that will generate into hopefully a positive outcome.”

A goal Veno said cannot be done without cooperation. Already, he said he's reached out to Harrisburg school administrators and board members. Perhaps the toughest relationship to build will be the unions.

“We're all a part of this process,” Veno said. “[The unions] have a stake in this as well. They have to come to the table.”

Veno said there is place for everyone at that table. To start, there will be no changes made to the current power structure. But, consider this deal as an “or else.”

The school board must accept the recovery plan after 90 days or else the state will take over all decisions. For the moment, it appears everyone is on the same page. Some school board members view this as an opportunity to fix problems, not create more.

“I welcome the opportunity,” Veno said. “I'm honored to be a part of this challenge.”

Veno said although he will tackle the district's unique challenges, he will work closely with David Meckley, who was named chief recovery officer for York City Schools.

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