For nearly five months, Harrisburg School District’s new administrators have worked without a clear understanding of where the district stands financially.
Appointed after a state takeover of local schools, those new leaders, specifically Acting Superintendent John George, have called the previously approved 2019-20 district budget “illusionary,” citing missing financial documents and years of suspected mismanagement that would have made the creation of an accurate budget nearly impossible.
Still, their focus has been on bringing that budget back to reality, and after months of work, it seems Harrisburg’s new leaders have achieved their goal. They’ve scheduled a public budget presentation for 6 p.m. today at the Lincoln Administration Building.
What remains unclear is whether that presentation will include good news or bad, whether the district is financially sound, operating at a drastic deficit or somewhere in the middle.
District officials have been mum about their findings, and on Monday, George did not immediately return a voicemail message seeking additional information about today’s budget presentation.
The budgetary probe began after a June 17, court-ordered state takeover of the district, which is intended to correct years of ongoing academic and financial under performance. The three-year takeover is led by Receiver Janet Samuels.
Along with Samuels came her leadership team, comprised largely of officials with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. Headed by George, it’s that team’s job to establish a framework by which the district can return to success.
Within the first 24 hours of the district’s partnership with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, the new administrators noticed something was amiss: financial records important to Harrisburg School District were missing from its main office and accounting software.
“We have to go through the financial system immediately because right now we have no confidence, little confidence in any of the dollar figures the we have available to us,” George said at that time, referring to the 2019-20 budget, which was created by the district’s pre-takeover administration.
Eventually, George would say, “Frankly, it’s an illusionary budget.”
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Since that first 24 hours, crafting an accurate budget has been a priority — a task George admitted would take months to complete.
“It’s been a painstaking process,” George said in September, when he reported that the district’s work to uncover an accurate budget was about 98 percent complete.
Now, it seems that work is finished, and district officials are expected to present their findings during tonight’s presentation.
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