Harrisburg School Board Reopens The Budget
by Tara Leo Auchey
After a dramatically high-strung discussion last night, the Harrisburg School Board of Directors reopened the 2012-2013 Budget originally passed on June 27th and restored some of the aggressive cuts it had made.
Using a $964,822 Accountability Block Grant, the Board instated the Kindergarten Literacy Program, which is a half-day, innovative program that includes a concentration on literacy and math instruction, trimesters, enrichment periods, parent workshops, and at-home visits. Each day, there will be two sessions of kindergarten—one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The running times will be first session 8:20-11:05am and 2nd session 12:40-3:25pm. With that vote, parents will receive immediate notice of the program in order to enroll their children as soon as possible in preparation for the August 13th school start date.
The School Board also had $1.7 million in State “distressed district” funds to use. Top priorities for the allocating the money were restoring sports, band, teaching positions, and extracurricular activities.
The most heated aspect of this discussion was in regard to sports. The original budget cut the district’s athletic program with a cost savings estimated to be about $375,000. At the June 27th Board meeting, Vice-President Jennifer Smallwood introduced a “pay to play” program that would require any student to pay a fee of $100 to participate in sports. The program passed on a vote of 5-4 with dissenting members feeling the program lacked details or public vetting. Thus at last night’s Board meeting, Director Rhonda Mays called for a rescinding of that vote, saying that a more concrete and specific plan had to put on the table before such a program was instituted. The majority of the Board agreed and the vote was rescinded.
However, this was not the end of the confusion. Since the athletic program had originally been cut, the Harrisburg Public Schools Foundation—what is defined as the “fund raising arm of the District”—had initiated efforts to collect donations to save sports. To date, the Foundation has raised $45,000 with another $35,000 pledged. In a presentation to the Board during last night’s meeting, the Foundation declared it anticipated having over $400,000 raised by August.
With those projections in place, the Board decided to reserve some of the State money to fund sports and band in case the Foundation cannot raise the money. In this way, found-raising efforts can continue to take place and students are guaranteed an athletic program for next year.
The Board restored about $300,000 for elementary school teachers. Extracurricular activities have also been restored.
After consideration to rescind the 2.5% property tax increase passed on June 27th, it was decided to keep it in place, and that money will be earmarked for next year’s kindergarten program in case an Accountability Block Grant cannot be gotten from the State.