Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Harrisburg school district denies charges in receivership petition, says students may fall under “external management”

A recent meeting of the Harrisburg school board

The Harrisburg school district today responded to a state petition seeking to place the district into receivership, denying numerous charges and stating that the district’s 2013 recovery plan could compel the state to place students “under external management.”

In his 31-page response, district Solicitor James Ellison took issue with the charges leveled against the district by the state Department of Education.

In his response, Ellison repeatedly denied claims made in a petition last week by education Secretary Pedro Rivera, which included that the district allegedly failed to meet student achievement targets and allegedly failed to fulfill key initiatives in the 2013 financial recovery plan.

Ellison’s response repeatedly stated the district has followed both the law and the directives of the district’s state-appointed chief recovery officers.

“The District hereby affirmatively represents that it has performed its statutory obligations under the Financial Recovery Law as well as the Second Amended Plan passed by its Board of School Directors on May 31, 2016 as confirmed by Exhibit 8 of the Petition, and substantially (if not fully) complied with all directives issued by its assigned chief recovery officers related to the governing recovery plan applicable during their respective tenure,” Ellison wrote in response to many of Rivera’s charges.

Ellison further stated that the district will “establish by clear and convincing evidence that the petition for appointment of a receiver is arbitrary, capricious, or wholly irrelevant to restoring the school district to financial stability.”

Dauphin County Judge William Tully is slated to hear the case on Monday, in which the district must show that the state’s request for receivership is, in fact, “arbitrary and capricious.”

After the hearing, Tully has 10 days to affirm or deny the state’s petition to put the district into receivership. The state also has asked Tully to appoint the current chief recovery officer, Dr. Janet Samuels, as receiver for the district.

In his response today, Ellison also repeatedly stated that, according to the district’s 2013 recovery plan, a failure to meet recovery plan goals compels the state to “take the necessary steps to transfer District-educated students to schools under external management.”

The recovery plan indeed does contain the phrase “external management,” but fails to define what precisely that means.

“If the Court denies the Harrisburg School District’s prayer for relief and issues an order appointing Dr. Janet Samuels as Receiver, the Harrisburg School District respectfully submits that such order must direct the [sic] Secretary Rivera and Dr. Samuels to take all necessary steps to transfer all District-educated students to schools under external management effective for the 2019-20 school year,” Ellison concluded.

Meanwhile, the district remains under a court order banning it from entering into contracts without Samuels’ express consent. Tully issued that order last week after the district met in “special session” to consider a settlement with Premier Charter School without previously notifying Samuels.

The district today also issued a statement saying that it was prepared to cooperate with the state’s “real-time” financial audit—the state’s intention to review results of its financial audit of the district as the audit continues.

“We remain committed to transparency, the process of financial and academic recovery and a continued effort to put students first,” according to the district’s statement.

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