Extension granted to craft Penn Hills School District’s recovery plan | TribLIVE.com
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Michael DiVittorio

State financial recovery officer Daniel Matsook and his committee have more time to construct a plan to fix the fiscally troubled Penn Hills School District.

Matsook said an extension was granted by the state Department of Education to complete the plan by May 20.

He originally intended to submit the plan to the state Department of Education by April 23 and have it approved by the school board April 29.

However, state law calls for a 30-day review of the plan by the board and public prior to approval.

A draft of the plan was submitted to the school board earlier this month.

It includes roughly 70 initiatives designed to streamline operations, increase revenues and reduce expenses. Details have not been released.

“Those drafts were collected back because it is not a final plan,” Matsook said. “There is still time for revisions.”

The plan is expected to be made public in May and approved June 24, at the same meeting the district plans to adopt next school year’s budget.

A link to the district’s proposed preliminary budget is posted on the front page of the district’s website, pbsd.k12.pa.us.

It shows a projected $8.1 million shortfall even with a maximum real estate tax hike allowed by the state without a voter referendum.

“The new timeline aligns with the budget planning process since much of the plan’s Year One initiatives are included in the 2019-2020 budget,” Matsook said. “The extension also gives my technical support team more time to reconcile all the numbers and ensure alignment of the narrative and initiatives with the financials.”

Matsook gave an overview of the plan last month.

It will feature demographic information, student enrollment, academic data and related statistics as well as student achievements and financial reports.

Board President Erin Vecchio said the time extension is much needed.

“It benefits the school district and the employees to see if we can get money from Harrisburg to help us,” she said. “We can’t do much without the state budget being done and see what’s there for education funds, and it gives us more time to look at the bigger picture to see what we need.”

The district is more than $172 million in debt largely due to the construction of the high school and elementary school.

A recently created online petition at change.org claims the district plans to furlough at least 36 teachers as part of the plan.

Matsook said possible furloughs are still being discussed.

Vecchio said she was aware of the online petition, and noted no cuts have been finalized.

“We would love not to furlough these people,” she said. “We’re told if we do not (approve this plan) then receivership would take place.”

When receivership occurs, the state takes over and a state-appointed receiver makes most, if not all, decisions regardless of what the elected board wants.

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