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Revised 2019-20 budget released for Harrisburg School District

HARRISBURG — The Montgomery County Intermediate Unit has released a revised 2019-20 budget for Harrisburg School District. The budget, which is $152,120,7...

HARRISBURG -- The Montgomery County Intermediate Unit has released a revised 2019-20 budget for Harrisburg School District.

The budget, which is $152,120,755, is $6,675,978 less than the previous budget submitted to the state by the previous administration, according to a news release from the school district. The budget puts the district at a $2.6 million deficit for the 2019-20 school year.

It was found that the previous administration over-estimated state revenue by more than $5.1 million, lost $2.8 million in federal grant money for a high school program over the last two years, and mismanaged, misappropriated, and inaccurately accounted for hundreds of thousands of dollars of school district funds, the news release states.

"One of the first steps in returning educational prosperity to this school district is to stabilize our finances and ensure we are spending and accounting for funds appropriately,” said Montgomery County Intermediate Unit (MCIU) Director Dr. John George, who is leading the District’s Recovery Plan Service Partnership. "The amount of errors and mismanagement we have uncovered is egregious and truly unfair to the students, staff, and taxpayers of this school district. But, there is hope for the future and we believe it’s entirely possible to make dramatic improvements. We will accept nothing less."

According to the news release, the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit has developed a Business Operations Procedure Manual, which includes procedures for cash disbursement, and are providing training for staff on how to manage district funds, including grant money and funds from booster clubs and parent/teacher organizations.

The revised budget also includes a $1.9 million under-estimation of charter school tuition payments from the original budget, savings in salaries and benefits as the district uncovered payments being made to ineligible employees, and new fees the district will probably be required to pay to Capital Region Water for stormwater management improvements.

The district will also look at its annual payments to Harrisburg Area Community College to supplement tuition for adult students who no longer have an affiliation with the district.

"Truly, every financial aspect of this school district will continue to be analyzed,” George said. “We will examine contracts with major service providers such as Aramark and our energy management providers. We’ll also be digging into the District’s outstanding legal matters that may have some major financial implications."

In the news release, the district listed ways it expects to see financial savings:

  • Refinance debt, taking advantage of historically low interest rates
  • Review medical benefits contracts and request proposals for new benefits consulting services
  • Review the sale of existing assets such as the former Woodward Elementary site and the shuttered William Penn High School
  • Address increasing per pupil special education costs, which are running $6,748 higher than the state average
  • Develop stronger, long-lasting community partnerships
  • Pursue new revenue in the form of grants and non-traditional sources
  • Address charter school costs by improving accounting on enrollment invoices, as well as working to return students to programs run by the Harrisburg School District

A fraud reporting hotline (717-703-4135) and email address (fraud@hbgsd.us) have also been established.

“We are very much looking forward to talking about the positive academic changes we’ve been making and will continue to make,” said Dr. Janet Samuels, the state-appointed Receiver for the District. “Ultimately our goal is to create a very strong educational system that operates with fidelity, integrity, and provides academic rigor and promise for our students. This was the first step in doing that.”