The big focus at the Harrisburg school board meeting Monday night was on ironing out problems with workers - specifically, the lack of a contract with unionized custodial and maintenance workers along with some lingering resentment over the recently approved contract with the teachers union.
The board approved the laying off of 15 additional members of AFSCME Local 13. That's because the union rejected a contract offer from the board last week that called for reductions in wages and benefits.
Chief recovery officer Gene Veno said the furloughs will be automatically be rescinded if the union reverses its no vote when it meets again Thursday.
"I don't think many of the members understood what they were voting for," Veno said. "So, when they called me last week, they asked to renegotiate. I said there are no more negotiations. It's either an up or down vote."
But more discussion centered on a proposal for a $90,000 a year salary for the director of the Cougar Academy; in other words a cyber school director.
A few board members objected to that, as did Sherri Magnuson, president of the Harrisburg Education Association.
"The money that was allocated for the position total should have been $100,000," she said. "There is no way with a salary of $90,000 that you could give benefits for $10,000."
The board voted 5-1 to approve the position and the salary. Veno says the extra money involved amounts to about $8,000 and is well within what was budgeted. He believes the position is needed to stem the exodus of tax dollars that goes with students opting instead to go out of the district for cyber schooling.
"We're looking at bringing back $14 million to this district," Veno said. "So $8,000, we're squabbling over not much money.
"What we're looking at here is - we have a million dollars within the budget in the recovery plan for a salary and projected marketing of this program."
But Magnuson was incensed.
"I can't believe that I've stood in front of my membership and asked them to take a wage cut and a pay freeze and then I have to call shenanigans," she said. "I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous."