Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg school board continues budget talks, but changes to preliminary budget unlikely, CFO says

After five years of state-imposed austerity, the Harrisburg school district doesn’t have many programs left to cut.

That was the message of district administrators to the school board budget committee tonight, as they presented cost-cutting alternatives that could help the district close a $9 million deficit.

The board has already approved a preliminary budget for the 2018-2019 school year, which calls for eliminating 51 positions across the district – most of them teachers. Combined with a 3.6 percent tax hike, the cuts will narrow the district’s deficit to $4.7 million.

Board president Judd Pittman voted to approve the preliminary budget in May. But he also asked the business office to identify other expenditures that the district could trim.

Administrators responded tonight by listing the costs of all the district’s non-mandated programs, which are the only general fund expenditures it can legally eliminate. Those include the $1.2 million full-day kindergarten program, $600,000 of athletics programs and the $8.3 million Sci-Tech Campus of Harrisburg High School.

The business office did not recommend that the board cut any of those programs. The preliminary budget that the board approved in May represents the administration’s official budget recommendations, said chief financial officer Jim Snell.

But at tonight’s committee meeting, many district residents and employees continued to protest the preliminary budget, saying it will strain teachers and worsen learning conditions for students.

The district’s former business manager also accused the administration of obfuscating budget details before the public and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE.)

State law requires school districts to post their proposed budgets online for 30 days prior to final approval. The revenues and expenditures must be formatted according to a PDE template.

Kenneth Medina, the district’s former business manager, said that the administration had omitted critical information from its budget page, putting it out of compliance with PDE requirements.

“The information the public is working with has been obscured,” Medina said. “It is not correct or validated… and I would like to do my part to make sure the budget we’ve presented is as accurate as possible.”

In past years, the forms the district has presented under the PDE template have been at least 25 pages. This year’s document is only 12 pages and does not include the same detailed revenue and expenditure breakdowns as the budgets posted for past years.

Neighboring school districts – including Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley – have all posted PDE budget forms that run over 20 pages.

The district’s current business manager said that the omission of the detailed report was an error that will be corrected as soon as possible.

“It wasn’t done on purpose,” said business manager Bilal Hasan. “I’m sure it will be up on the site tonight.”

The school board will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, June 18 in the Lincoln Administration Building. It will vote on its final 2018-19 budget in a special meeting to be scheduled later this month.

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