Harrisburg School Board: Financial Woes Led to Resignations
HARRISBURG -- Longtime superintendent Dennis Smith stepped down from the helm of the Harrisburg district earlier this week.
The move came as a surprise to many. On Friday, the school board held a special meeting to find an interim replacement for Smith. There have been a lot of changes for the district in the last eight months. Four board members have quit since April.
Most agree the problems boil down to finances. The stress of stretching Harrisburg's limited funds has caught up with everyone.
"The whole process is a bit of a surprise. I think if you had asked me at first of October if we would be here today, I would probably not be too likely to have said that," School Board President Tom DeNeal said.
The latest change was Smith's resignation on Tuesday.
"The board and the superintendent didn't seem to get together as far as where they wanted to go," DeNeal explained.
He said ending Smith's contract early costs the district $100,000. It's a pricey move that forced leaders to pick a budget-conscious replacement. On Friday, the board announced two principals will each earn $7,500 to share the superintendent duties until next school year.
DeNeal said the board is working to make up a major deficit.
"Unfortunately on top of all this we're going to have to deal with the same financial problems," he said.
Harrisburg's budget is $500,000 to $600,000 in the red because of state funding not coming through.
"You're seeing the stress factor become such that people decide they don't want to be part of it," said DeNeal.
That stress is shared by teachers; the district eliminted 16 positions in recent years to help cut costs.
"If the state was making their payments and getting us where we need to be, well we probably wouldn't be in this boat," Harrisburg Education Association President Greg Langley said.
He hopes for consistency.
"I'm not sure exactly where thats headed or where that needs to be but you know it's gotta be. It seems like we've been off course for a while now and hopefully we can bring ourselves back onto course," said Langley.
DeNeal wants to put the focus back on students.
"We need to concentrate on education period thats what we need to be doing and not worry too much about some of the sideshow events that happen," DeNeal emphasized.
The board also approved a contract for teachers at Friday's meeting, which includes a pay freeze for the 2014-2015 school year. They'll start looking for a permanent replacement next year, and they say more teaching jobs may be eliminated to help balance the budget.
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