Frequently Asked Questions


Q.  What is Act 141?

A.  Called the School District Financial Recovery Law, Act 141 (PA House Bill 1307) is legislation designed to help financially distressed schools and ensure education for the students of these schools.  This law requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to develop an early warning system that will be used by the Department of Education to identify school districts in financial watch status.  A district will be declared in Financial Watch Status if it meets the criteria established by the PDE based on data that the district is required to provide.  School districts may be declared in Moderate Financial Recovery Status or Severe Financial Recovery Status.  The PDE must officially notify districts in financial watch status and continue to provide technical assistance to these districts.  The PDE will appoint a Chief Recovery Officer (CRO) for each district in financial recovery status.  The CRO is charged with taking input from the School Board and the community to develop a recovery plan to lead the district into financial solvency and position it for academic success.  The law also requires PDE to establish the Recovery School District Transitional Loan Program, which allows school districts in financial recovery status to apply for an interest-free loan in order to implement parts of their financial recovery plan. 

Q.  When was House Bill 1307 signed into law?

A.  Governor Tom Corbett signed House Bill 1307 into law on July 12, 2012, and it is now designated at Act 141 of 2012.

Q.  Does the Harrisburg school district qualify as “distressed?”

A.  Yes.  On Wednesday, December 12, 2012, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis designated Harrisburg’s school district in “moderate financial recovery” status.

Q.  What is the difference between moderate financial distress and severe financial distress?

A.  A school district in moderate financial distress enables a Chief Recovery Officer ninety days to develop a recovery plan.  In a district in severe financial distress the Chief Recovery Officer has thirty days to develop the plan. There are a variety of other differences between the two designations, including the requirement to appoint an Advisory Committee in moderately distressed districts.

Q.  Do other school districts in Pennsylvania qualify as “fiscally distressed?”

A.  Only nine districts can be in financial recovery status at any one time under the law.  Four urban districts, including the Harrisburg School District, have received preliminary declarations as districts in financial recovery.

Q.  What is a Chief Recovery Officer (CRO)?

A.  Declaring a district in financial distress triggers the appointment by the state Secretary of Education of a qualified individual to develop a recovery plan.  This person carries the title of Chief Recovery Officer.

Q.  Does the Harrisburg School District have a CRO?

A.  On December 12, 2012, Education Secretary Ron Tomalis appointed Gene G. Veno as Chief Recovery Officer (CRO).  As required by law, Veno presented a plan to the school board in April 2013 for their approval. Effective July 1, 2015, Education Secretary Pedro Rivera appointed Dr. Audrey Utley as the Chief Recovery Officer to oversee the fiscal recovery of the district and assist district leaders in leveraging resources to support academic achievement.

Q.  What type of background does CRO Utley have for this role?

A.  Dr. Utley has spent more than 40 years working in both suburban and urban school districts across the commonwealth.  She has experience as a parent, teacher, principal, superintendent, and school board member.

Q.  What are the objectives of the plan?

A.  The recovery plan establishes a framework for leading the district into financial solvency and positions it for academic success.  The objective is to provide the district with an opportunity to improve the education of its students and prepare them for college and the workplace environment.

Q.  What are the objectives for our children?

A.  The objectives of the Recovery Plan for the Harrisburg schools are designed to offer every student an opportunity to achieve and succeed.  Each of our children must be equipped with the skills required to not only meet the state performance standards, but to successfully graduate from high school.   We must create new educational experiences for students that prepare them to succeed in college and in the workplace.

Q.  What types of things will be included in the CRO’s plan to the school board?

A.  To build a framework that will serve as the guide to the successful recovery of the school district, the CRO and a team of experts will study all aspects of the district, from academics and extracurricular programs to building functions and viability, labor contracts, technology, and security, along with revenue and expenses.  The plan will be a starting place in determining how to best meet the needs of district students and will be revised as needed.

Q.  How can a plan be developed if the district is in moderate financial distress?

A. Consulting firm, Public Financial Management, was hired by the state education department to provide technical support, including analyzing data, making projections and helping an advisory committee develop ideas for the future.  Starting with a financial baseline, the advisory committee will assess district needs and determine how much money comes into the district through federal, state, and local public sources.  The plan could include a wide range of ideas from charter school conversations to cutting programs.

Q.  Did the CRO develop this plan?

A.  The CRO assembled an advisory committee, in accordance with the law, and worked with a collaboration of partners to solicit ideas.  The CRO Advisory Committee is comprised of Harrisburg school administrators, school board members, community members and other involved educators. The committee meets at least one time each month. In addition, the state provides the CRO with a technical assistance team to review the Harrisburg school district’s budget and help determine the financial viability of different recovery options. Consulting firm, Public Financial Management, was hired by the state education department to analyze data, make projections and help the team develop ideas for the future

Q.  What is the timeframe for developing a recovery plan for the Harrisburg School District?

A.  The law requires the plan be presented to the school board within 90 days of the appointment of the CRO, which was December 12, 2012.

Q.  How will the plan and the process impact the financial recovery of the Harrisburg school district?

A.  The entire process is meant to get Harrisburg schools on the right path financially and academically. 

Q.  What happens after the plan is presented?

A.  The elected school board must vote within ten days of March 12 to accept the plan.  If the board accepts the plan, the CRO submits a copy of the plan to the Secretary of Education within five days of the board’s approval.  Within ten days of the CRO’s submission of the plan to the secretary, the secretary shall approve the plan in a written statement.  The school board has 364 days to implement the plan.

Q.  Did the parents and other interested members of the public have any opportunities to provide input into the plan?  When will the public hear the details of the plan?

A.  Public forums were held for the Harrisburg School District community to discuss the financial and academic recovery declaration for Harrisburg and explain the procedure for developing and implementing a financial recovery plan.  A forum to learn about the Chief Recovery Officer’s report for the school district was also held.  The forums were open to the public.  The monthly meetings of the CRO Advisory Committee are open to the public.