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Scranton School District no longer in financial recovery

Since the Scranton School District adopted a financial recovery plan, it's enhanced educational offerings, found steady financial footing and settled union contracts.

Now, three and a half years later the district has successfully completed the requirements to exit Financial Recovery Status.

“This is a historic occasion for our district and it would not have been possible without the hard work, dedication and support of so many individuals," said Superintendent Missy McTiernan.

Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty joined district and community representatives in the Scranton’s administration building on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to celebrate the exit. Scranton's Chief Recovery Officer Dr. Candis Finan alongside Hagarty signed the official documents removing the designation from the Scranton School District.

In January 2019, the Pennsylvania Department of Education placed Scranton in financial recovery, the last step before receivership, which is when the state takes over a school district. The district was one of six statewide in recovery. The School District of the City of York was in recovery for 10 years. In December, York City was the first school district ever to be released from the designation.

Scranton was struggling financially and buildings and educational materials were outdated and union contracts expired, among other issues. The district lacked basic procedures.

Finan, a retired Delaware Valley School District superintendent, was appointed Chief Recovery Officer in February 2019. She, along with district and state partners, helped craft the more than 200-page plan. The plan is a roadmap that looked at every aspect of the district: from finances and academics to reconfiguring the district’s schools and bus routes.

Scranton now has a fund balance, something it struggled with for years. The board often used one-time funds to balance yearly budgets. The district’s COVID-19-related money also helped.

Parts of the plan, as well as the plan itself, have been controversial in the community.

Fifth graders moved out of the elementary schools and into the intermediate schools. Some students who live in South Scranton, now attend West Scranton High School. The plan called to close schools; so far Bancroft Elementary School closed with plans to close others tabled. Since it's been in place, the school board has raised taxes three out of four times, a move suggested in the plan.

Katie Gilmartin is the only current school board director who voted on the recovery plan.

“This wasn't a way to dismantle this school district," she said "This was really a way to focus on our priorities, and to focus on our mission, which is K through 12 education.”

Gilmartin is a former board president.

"If there is one thing that I hope anybody has learned from this process, it's ... that this will be consistent hard work, it will always be keeping an eye open for what challenges are coming down the road and making sure that we're poised to react to it," she said.

Now, the district enters a five-year monitoring phase. The recovery plan and Finan will still be in place.

McTiernan said financial recovery made everyone in the district come together to move in the same direction.

"The recovery plan gave us a focus," she said.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.