Pleasant Valley School District approved the layoff of 52 part-time paraprofessionals in a drastic cost-cutting measure at Thursday evening’s board meeting.
Facing uncertain revenue and daunting debt, the board of education was forced to let go of the 52 employees currently working at the district’s elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools following a unanimous vote on the measure.
The paraprofessionals will be laid off at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year, though an approved agreement between the board of education and the support association could potentially see some of those employees returning to the district as full-timers in the future.
Board president Donna Yozwiak conveyed the news in a prepared statement at the start of the meeting, citing the "deteriorating fiscal condition" of the district as part of the rationale behind the decision.
Financial woes have been looming over Pleasant Valley for some time, as business manager Susan Famularo has brought up numerous times over course of the budget presentations for the 2020-21 school year.
Yozwiak noted that "the trajectory of our district will result in running out of any fund balance and hitting negative in a matter of a few years." Each department in the district was tasked with cutting costs and making sacrifices, including personnel, in order to mitigate expenditures for the upcoming school year.
Superintendent Dr. Lee Lesisko said that the paraprofessional layoffs were not targeted in any way, and that there will be cuts "across the board" – including in administration – as the district attempts to make its way out of a $6.1 million hole.
"Staffing is the biggest thing," Lesisko said on Friday. "We need to cut staff. That’s going be our biggest area, because over 70% of our budget is salary and benefits. We need to get things under control, and a lot of this stuff we don’t have control over."
Finance committee head Leonard Peeters, commenting on the 2020-21 budget that was approved that evening, said that cuts were carefully considered in order to reduce the impact on the students, and that "These decisions were emotionally difficult."
The devastation from COVID-19 has only added to the established funding issues, disrupting otherwise reliable revenue streams and putting the district in the unenviable position of trimming any and every expense possible.
"The resulting events of the pandemic and the economic catastrophe in its wake will result in reduced revenue for this district, in the areas of real estate transfer tax, Earned Income Tax, and interest earning," Yozwiak said. "Revenue that as late as March we were relying on."
Unbudgeted reopening costs for the fall could also deal a significant blow to the district and its fund balance. Yozwiak noted that numerous reopening measures could add up to millions of dollars in extra expenses.
"To this tight knit school community, it is our fundamental goal to provide the best educational opportunities to all of our children every single day," Yozwiak said. "However, we must make Pleasant Valley sustainable both in educational delivery, operations, and how we tax our already over-taxed community."
Details as to exactly how much money will be saved with the layoffs were unavailable as of Friday, as Pleasant Valley’s district offices were closed.
Another approved agenda item may provide some consolation to those laid off paraprofessionals in the future, though details at the moment are uncertain.
Yozwiak and solicitor Mark Fitzgerald both remarked on a memorandum of understanding between the administration and the leadership of the Pleasant Valley Educational Support Association "to provide opportunities for these impacted employees to rejoin the organization over time, possibly in a larger role as a full-time paraprofessional."
"We are Pleasant Valley Proud, and while tonight is a very difficult night, we will all get through this as a stronger community," Yozwiak said. "Tough times never last; tough people do!"