Judge moves to put Harrisburg City School District under state control

Harrisburg High School (Cpaital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)
Harrisburg High School (Cpaital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison)

A Dauphin County judge announced Monday morning that he would appoint a receiver to take control of the Harrisburg City School District, effectively putting the troubled school system under state control.

Judge William Tully is expected to sign the order appointing a receiver on Monday. He announced his decision after a brief hearing in his chambers on Monday morning, when district solicitor James Ellison said he would not contest the petition brought by Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, PennLive reports.

Ellison’s announcement came as a surprise twist in the district’s legal strategy. Late last week, he filed a response denying all charges that Rivera brought in his petition, namely that the district had failed to comply with the long-term recovery plan it adopted jointly with the state in 2013.

Rivera petitioned the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas earlier this month to appoint a receiver to take the reins of the free-falling school district, which enrolls 6,000 predominantly low-income and minority students. A receiver assumes all the powers of a superintendent and school board, except for the board’s power to raise and levy taxes.

Harrisburg city school district may soon be under state control, as Pa. Education department petitions for receivership

Tully did not say in Monday’s hearing who he would appoint to the role, but Rivera has requested that he choose Janet Samuels, a veteran teacher and administrator who currently serves as the district’s chief recovery officer.

Rivera appointed Samuels to that advisory role almost a year ago to help the district implement the next phase of its long-term recovery plan. But the district’s administration and school board have largely shut Samuels out of decisions, according to news reports, and have even sparred with her publicly.

The capital city school district has the highest rate of teacher turnover in Pennsylvania, as well as low student test scores and attendance rates. It also carries a “financially distressed” designation from the Department of Education.

Harrisburg’s local and state elected officials all called on the state to appoint a receiver in April, after district administrators refused to comply with a Department of Education audit.

‘Complete craziness’: County court injunction halts special board meeting in Harrisburg as district fights receivership

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