Bleak financial numbers face Harrisburg schools

The Harrisburg School Board said Wednesday night that it's facing a nearly $12 million budget deficit. And that's only a small part of the district's overall debt.

The district's chief recovery officer met with the public Thursday night at the Camp Curtin School to hear what they had to say and to share some cold hard facts.

Gene Veno provided some stark numbers on the budget deficits the district will face over the next five years if nothing is done.

The three main financial problems facing the district, according to Veno, are teacher pensions, paying charter school tuition and $261 million in long-term debt.

“I've met with some financial experts,” Veno told the gathering. “I've met with some local banks. I can't get them to restructure that loan yet.”

Veno heard concerns from many parents, teachers and residents. Teachers have been going without a raise for several years and residents feel they are already taxed enough.

“How can you attract good teachers or maintain good teachers when you don't compensate them for their hard work?” asked one woman.

“Increasing taxes by the school district would be hugely detrimental to the ability to draw people in here,” said resident Nevin Mindlin, who has also indicated that he will again run for mayor.

While Veno is trying to figure out how to deal with long-term debt, the Harrisburg School Board is working on a budget that right now has an $11.7 million shortfall.

Teacher Will Davis talked of winning a teacher lottery in which he won paper to give to his students.

“The reality is that without the state coming in to provide a no-interest or low-interest loan and extending the debt for the long-term, there really isn't any solution,” Davis said.

Veno, meanwhile, will focus on the $261 million in bond debt.

“As soon as we can get that payment down, which we see going to $21 million per year, we can then start to concentrate on other numbers that are of concern to me within the budget,” he said.

Veno said there's a good chance he will push back the date that his recovery plan will be finished.

The original target date was March 12, but Veno said it took him longer than expected to get some of the numbers that he needed.

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