Harrisburg schools to remain in financial recovery; hope remains for York's exit

Carol Saylor, the chief recovery officer for the York City School District’, is shown in her office at the district administration building in York City, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Harrisburg School District — one of four Pennsylvania school districts, including York City, in financial recovery — will remain under state oversight for the time being.

The district was the first of the four to reach the projected completion date for its state-mandated recovery plan.

Its plan — which was last updated in 2016 — had an end goal of June 2018, but, as state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera pointed out in a letter to the district's superintendent last month, that date was not set in stone.

Rivera wrote in the June 6 letter that Harrisburg would be receiving a new state-appointed chief recovery officer, and the district is bound to follow its current recovery plan until the new officer creates an updated version.

"I would like to clarify a possible misunderstanding about the recovery plan. It does not, as some have suggested, expire at the end of June 2018," the secretary wrote. "It continues to be in effect until the district is terminated from financial recovery status."

As long as it takes: After The York Dispatch reached out to the administration on Monday, July 9, the Harrisburg district released a statement through public relations coordinator Kirsten Keys, confirming that "all indications" point to the district remaining in recovery.

Department of Education press secretary Eric Levis reiterated that the district's status will not be terminated until it fulfills the requirements of its plan.

Both the Harrisburg and York City school districts are in moderate recovery status — meaning their school boards and administrations still make the decisions, but they must follow plans formed with the help of state-appointed recovery officers.

York City's chief recovery officer, Carol Saylor, said she recognizes there is no precedent for achieving financial recovery as specified by Act 141 of 2012.

She has said she doesn't exactly know what to expect when her district reaches the projected end of its four-year plan next June.

So far, the district is on track to achieve its financial goals, Saylor noted last month, but ultimately it is up to the secretary to determine if the district has made enough progress.

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A district diagnostic poster is shown at the York City School District Administration Building in York City, Tuesday, March 29, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Critical financial challenges: For Harrisburg, however, the factors keeping the district under state oversight seem to be less subjective.

On May 29, the board approved its 2018-19 budget — with an approximately $4.8 million deficit covered by its fund balance, meeting minutes state.

For instance, according to Harrisburg's exit criteria, the district must have a positive fund balance of at least 5 percent of annual revenues for three successive years.

It also must show a five-year projection of balanced budgets for the years following an exit of recovery and make adequate progress on academic performance, graduation rate and attendance rate milestones laid out in the plan, as determined by the CRO.

And in a June 26 letter from Rivera, citing "critical financial challenges," he reminded the district that its plan required full-time permanent positions for a chief financial officer and business manager.

Harrisburg City currently employs a part-time CFO and an interim acting business manager.

When reached Tuesday, July 10, Saylor was still uncertain about how the secretary would judge York City next year.

"I certainly hope so," she said, of whether the district would be released from recovery status.

She said the district is improving academically, and she would like to think that it will be enough progress for the department to give the OK.