Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

“People they love will go away:” Teachers plead with board to preserve school staff for students’ sake.

Teachers from Foose Elementary School attended the school board budget and finance committee meeting tonight in support of their vice principal, William Hicks, who may be transferred under proposed budget cuts.

Harrisburg teachers worried about impending budget cuts brought their concerns to the school board tonight, where they asked board directors to trim fat from the district’s administration before eliminating educational and support staff.

At least 30 teachers were joined by members of the public and district parents at a budget and finance committee meeting, where public comment ran for more than an hour.

Teachers said that the proposed cuts to classroom staff and school administration offices would hurt students and disrupt school operations. They also questioned the salary expenditures in the district’s central administrative office.

The most recent budget proposal from the district business office calls for the elimination of 31 employees across the district, including assistant principals, counselors, security personnel, teachers and district administrators.

The cuts would narrow the district’s projected deficit from $8 million to $5 million for the 2018-19 school year, assuming the board authorizes maximum tax hikes.

Tonight, teachers implored the board to prioritize salary cuts in the district’s central administrative office rather than in school buildings.

Suzanne Williams, a veteran teacher at Downey Elementary School, said that the teachers, security guards, school counselors and food service personnel who interact with students every day should not have their jobs in jeopardy.

“Each year, we’re faced with more problems than the last, and everything is cut from the bottom, nothing ever from the top,” Williams said.

Another teacher said that the cuts would unfairly strain administrative and educational staff in schools. She contended that central administrative offices are fully staffed, pointing as an example to the six employees in the district’s human resources office.

“None of the people at 1601 are expected to work alone, without assistance, but our principals, secretaries, security personnel are,” the teacher said, referring to the district’s central administrative offices at 1601 State St. “These cuts directly affect the academic climate of our schools.”

Business Manager Bilal Hasan said that the proposed budget would cut some central administrative positions. He said that every department in the district’s administrative building was asked to identify one position to eliminate.

The budget proposal also calls for eliminating assistant principals at buildings with fewer than 500 students, which includes both Downey and Foose elementary schools.

More than a dozen teachers from Foose appeared at the board meeting in support of the school’s vice principal, William Hicks, who may be transferred to another building due to the cuts. Teachers said that Hicks has formed a formidable duo with Principal Alexis Wertz, and they urged the board not to separate the administrators.

“Breaking up the team will reinforce the trauma our students already know, which is that people they love will go away,” said Kayla Mini, a music teacher at Foose.

Teachers also called out specific salaries and spending choices by the district. Angela Holmes, an elementary school librarian, wanted to know why $7,100 had been taken from the district’s library funds to pay for a high school excursion to an amusement park.

Many teachers questioned the district’s $280,000 grant-funded budget for consultants, and more than one commenter remarked on the $100,000 in annual salary and incentives for Hasan, the business administrator.

The final comment of the night came from district parent Kia Hansard, who asked why Superintendent Sybil Knight-Burney was not at the meeting.

“She needs to be here. It’s her responsibility to help figure this out,” Hansard said about Knight-Burney, who was notified in March that her contract will not be automatically renewed when it expires on June 30.

The school board will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, May 21 at 5:30 p.m. in the district administration building at 1601 State St. The budget and finance committee will next meet on Monday, June 5.

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