How should Harrisburg schools spend $10M surplus?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Two winters ago, Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno painted a chilling portrait that Harrisburg Schools would be frozen in red ink through 2017 equaling $171 million.

On Monday night, he announced a huge thaw.

“Looks like there will be a surplus,” he said.

The Budget Committee announced there was a surplus of $10 million in the budget. Last year, a surplus of $11 million was discovered. And, the district’s chief financial officer, Peggy Morningstar, said they are projecting four years of surpluses, which accomplished the five-year recovery plan’s financial goals in two years.

To most, a double-digit swing seems to be a miscalculation. Morningstar said the surplus is nothing more than:

“Our revenues exceeded our expenditures,” she said.

How did that happen? Harrisburg’s minimalist lifestyle the past few years have attributed to its fiscal recovery. Morningstar said closing school building, cutting staff, teachers and pay have made bare bones living worthwhile financially.

Yet, Harrisburg Teachers Union President Rich Askey said the district still has a dire need to improve education.

“It is time to invest in the children,” he said.

Morningstar said $3 million will be spent on building upgrades, $2 million to restore teacher pay, and the remaining $5 million will be put into savings. She said the district is in the process of purchasing a new teaching plan.

“We have to roll out a new curriculum and find the supplies needed for teachers,” she said.

Morningstar said federal grants and funds are typically used to purchase school supplies, like textbooks.

Askey points to this year’s poor performance scores as reason to put more emphasis on teachers. He said most took a five percent wage reduction to stay in the district. He said a lot of good teachers left for better paying jobs.

He said the two million spread across teachers and staff would not be a full restoration of pay.

“You need to put that money into making sure we return the good teachers that are in the school district and that we can recruit the teachers it takes to replace those we have lost,” he said.

The surplus means the district will not implement a property tax hike for city residents. The school board has not made a final decision on how to spend the surplus.

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