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Judge issues order preventing Harrisburg school board from acting on contracts

Harrisburg school district’s Administration Building

A Dauphin County judge has issued an order preventing the Harrisburg school board from unilaterally entering into new contracts, including a settlement with Premier Charter School.

Judge William Tully issued the order late Friday, following a hearing in his courtroom, but the order was just made public this morning. It bars the board from entering into binding obligations without the express consent of the state’s representative to the district, Chief Recovery Officer Janet Samuels.

The order states that “. . . the [school] board is enjoined from binding the district to new—or terminating existing—commitments, obligations, or expenditure of resources, including by amending, altering or entering into any contracts for goods or services (including the hiring or contracting of personnel), unless such action is done with the written consent of the Chief Recovery Officer as being consistent with the 2016 Amended Recovery Plan . . . .”

The final sentence of the order specifically prevents the board from “entering into any settlement authorizing the granting of a charter to Premier Charter School.”

Last week, the board hastily scheduled an “special” meeting, which Tully stopped by issuing an injunction as the meeting’s private executive session was occurring. At that meeting, the board was  to consider voting on a settlement with Premier Charter School, which would have allowed the school to continue operating, despite the board denying it a charter renewal last year.

The meeting also was called to discuss a variety of personnel issues, which district critics feared included entering into contracts with Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney and Solicitor James Ellison.

On Friday, Tully held a hearing that revealed that Thursday night’s school board meeting would have taken up the issue of a settlement with Premier Charter School. According to Tully, Samuels had not been made aware of the proposed settlement.

In its petition for placing the school district into state receivership, the state Department of Education has recommended that Samuels be named the district’s receiver.

“Shouldn’t you have discussed the settlement with your CRO and possible receiver?” Tully asked Ellison during the court hearing on Friday.

Tully also criticized the school district for calling the special meeting so suddenly and then posting the agenda, which made no mention of the proposed settlement, just hours before the meeting was to occur.

“That timetable had a smell to it,” Tully said.

The hearing on the district entering into state receivership is slated for June 17.

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