The Harrisburg School District will remain under state receivership for three more years, but according to Receiver Dr. Lori Suski, that’s not a bad thing.
In a meeting with several reporters on Tuesday, Suski said that district has had some recent success achieving its financial and academic goals, but that the receivership has not completed its mission.
“I think we in the district would agree that the extension of the receivership is a positive thing,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work that has to be done both financially and academically to make sure the district is positioned for success moving forward.”
On Monday, Judge William T. Tully of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas signed an order for the extended receivership period, which was originally set to expire on June 17. In the order, Tully reappointed Suski through June 17, 2025.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (DEP) filed the petition for the extension in late May, stating that the district was in “mid-stream” with many of its initiatives. The district was initially placed under receivership in 2019 for failing to meet goals in the 2016 Financial Recovery Plan. Suski took her position in January, following the departure of former receiver Dr. Janet Samuels.
Suski described the past three years as a “stabilization” period, which the district has used to build procedures and policies that didn’t previously exist. The court only approved the district’s Amended Financial Recovery Plan in July 2021, giving the district less than a year to begin to implement it, she explained.
“A lot of the areas are not just a matter of checking a box of compliance,” she said. “It’s really the ongoing sustained efforts and accomplishments that have to be realized before the district is out of receivership.”
The next three years will consist of continuing those efforts.
Specifically, the district will continue to work on developing a five-year financial projection, creating a facility utilization plan, finding additional revenue sources through its tax-exempt entities and improving academics, according to Suski.
In a phone call with TheBurg, school board Vice President Steven Williams said that he’s in favor of the receivership extension, explaining how COVID affected the past three years.
“There was a lot of progress made during the three years, but it was really hampered by the pandemic,” he said. “That really threw a wrench into the receivership process.”
Harrisburg had less than a year of receivership under its belt before pandemic shutdowns began in March 2020. Williams said, because of that, the district didn’t get to experience the “full effect” of receivership.
Suski added that COVID was a major contributing factor to why students’ test scores, attendance rates and grades remained low in recent years.
“Students need consistent instruction in order to be successful,” she said. “Urban environments, as a whole, have been hit very hard by the pandemic. But we are very hopeful that we can move in the right direction.”
This will include revamping Harrisburg’s science and social studies curriculum, as well as updating classroom resources and focusing on project-based learning initiatives, Suski said.
According to Suski, the district will be poised to exit receivership in three years if it follows the 2021 Amended Financial Recovery Plan and gets community buy-in.
By 2025, Harrisburg could return to local control after six years under the state. That would return authority to the school board of directors, who currently only hold the power to levy taxes. In the meantime, Suski plans to partner with the board and assist with providing professional development opportunities.
Williams also explained that, while the board may not have its full range of power, members plan to act as advocates for the community.
“I think it’s been an honor to serve and be part of the district’s recovery,” he said. “This is about generations of students that were getting shortchanged, but will now see opportunities coming their way.”
For more information, visit the Harrisburg School District’s website.
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