Harrisburg schools recovery chief unveils plan for $11M surplus

Spreading the $11 million surplus in the Harrisburg School District recovery plan is proving more difficult than first thought.

Recommendations by Gene Veno, the district's chief recovery officer, are hitting walls with the teacher's union.

Veno said he was “disappointed” when about $11.4 million was uncovered after an accounting oversight. However, he said he immediately began to address the issue and find the best ways to use the money.

On Thursday, Veno released a detailed plan that includes restoring full-day kindergarten in the 2014-2015 school year and freezing property tax rates through 2015-2016.

Veno also recommends eliminating the five-percent district employee pay cut next school year and restoring half (2.5 percent) of the 2013-2014 five-percent pay cut.

Sherri Magnuson, president of the Harrisburg Education Association, said their full salary should be restored because the union negotiated a contract under false pretenses.

“Although, I know Mr. Veno would like to give himself a pat on the back, it is the workers of the School District of Harrisburg that are still getting a slap in the face,” Magnuson said.

Veno said his “Shared Saving Approach” helps both teachers, staff, administrators and education programs.

“We get it, we wanted to give it back to them immediately,” said Veno, “but the problem was we wanted to put full-time kindergarten that's needed in this community, the problem is we didn't want to see tax increases in this community, the problem is we didn't want to take the $6 million loan and commit the district for a $645,000 expense every year.”

Veno said since revenues exceeded expenses this school year, 50 percent could be used towards education and the other half could be used to restore staff pay.

“Hopefully, there will be monies that will allow us to recalibrate the plan again in this current year,” he said. “That will get them whole by the end of 2014.”

Veno also recommends saving the district money by capping the district's growth in health care costs to five percent starting in 2016-2017. He also recommends reducing half the cost of employee health insurance opt-out beginning the same year.

Magnuson said the five-year budget requirement under Act 141 is unfair because no other district must operate on such a plan.

“Look at their five year prediction and they don't have a balanced budget for their five-year prediction, yet we're being mandated to do so,” Magnuson said. “It's completely unfair. We are unfortunately operating under a complete set of different circumstances than anybody else.”

Magnuson said she does not trust projected calculations by the CRO team that promise restoring pay. She said the union will not ratify a contract unless actions to restore the full pay are on the table.

“We need to go back to zero, which is back to where we were. Restore that money and then let's talk about the future,” she said.

Veno said he is doing what he believes is best for the district and its students.

“We all want to see it back, but we also have to address all the other issues with the plan,” he said.


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