Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg School Board meets new CRO, leaves charter school closure in limbo at October meeting

Chief recovery Officer Janet Samuels (left) and CFO James Snell (middle.)

Administrative turnover continues at the Harrisburg School District, which recently welcomed a new chief recovery officer and learned it would lose its top financial advisor.

Janet Samuels, the district’s new chief recovery officer, made her first appearance at a board meeting tonight after starting her job on Oct. 1. Samuels, a retired superintendent of Norristown Area School District, was appointed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to update and implement the district’s long-term recovery plan.

One of the first initiatives before Samuels is the selection of a full-time, permanent chief financial officer for the district, as interim CFO James Snell announced tonight that he would leave his post at the end of the year. The district’s recovery plan says it must have a full-time CFO.

Snell was appointed interim CFO at the start of the 2017-18 school year. He has only worked for the district as a part-time contractor, earning $100 an hour for 30 hours a week.

PDE told superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney in June that she must replace Snell with a full-time, permanent employee. Snell’s contract has been renewed each month as the district searches for his replacement.

Tonight, the board approved a new contract with Snell through Dec. 31. But he said he intended to resign his position when that contract expires.

“If I had 40 or 50 hours a week to give, I wouldn’t be making this comment,” Snell told the board. “But it’s not an option for me and I think the district needs more than what I’m able to provide.”

The district’s human resources department posted a help wanted ad to industry job boards this summer, but amended it and re-posted it recently, according to interim HR director Barbara Richard.

They hope to have a new candidate in by the new year. If they can’t find one, the district will appoint an interim director or see if it can operate without a CFO while the search continues, said Lance Freeman, an HR consultant.

The June letter from PDE also instructed the district to find a new business manager. Richard did not know if the district was still advertising that job. Bilal Hasan currently serves as acting business manager, but he does not have the professional certifications or experience required by the recovery plan.

Without mentioning any employees by name, Snell said tonight that he supported the district hiring a permanent business manager from within its own ranks.

“I do think the district is best served in the long run by growing and cultivating leadership from within, as opposed to turning to grey haired business managers to get you through a few years at a time,” Snell said.

The district’s last business manager, Kenneth Medina, was removed from his position last year and is currently suing the district to get his job back.

The school board also voted tonight to begin proceedings to close Premier Arts and Science Charter School, one of three charters operating in the district.

The board learned in August said the school reported inaccurate attendance figures and other data to the district and the state. Since districts reimburse charters per pupil they enroll, the inflated attendance figures allowed Premier to overcharge the district for the 2017-2018 school year.

The school has also logged low test scores and failed to meet many of the qualifications outlined in its 2013 charter application, according to a report.

A resolution to appoint a hearing officer to oversee the non-renewal proceedings failed to get a vote from the majority of the board. The motion got affirmative votes from board directors Judd Pittman, Danielle Robinson, Ellis Roy and Lola Lawson. Brian Carter voted against it, and Patricia Whitehead Myers, who worked for Premier until this summer, recused herself.

Board directors Carrie Fowler, Melvin Wilson and Lionel Gonzalez were absent.

After the meeting, solicitor Samuel Cooper declined to comment on where the vote tally left the proceedings. The board has already voted not to renew the school’s charter, but the non-renewal proceedings will determine how to close the school and transfer its 200 displaced students.

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