The "feeling of sadness" in the West York Area School District that one high school student described may continue this week, as the school board approved the furloughs of 19 professional staff and the layoffs of 10 support staff members at its meeting Tuesday.
Several students, parents and community members pleaded with the board to find another way to cover the district's deficit, without approving the cuts.
"I have always been a proud West York alumni, resident and parent," said resident Nicole Sanderson. "However, at this point I am disappointed in our direction."
But the district had little choice, said Superintendent Emilie Lonardi. While some districts have been able to cut 30 to 40 positions through retirement, the staff at West York is young, Lonardi said. She added state and federal funding has dropped in the past several years, and the district has lost millions of dollars in commercial property reassessments.
"This year has been excruciating for all of us," she said. "Absolutely excruciating."
Staff reductions: The cuts will affect every level of the district. Five elementary teachers, six middle school teachers and a counselor and six high school teachers will be out of work on June 30 if the district cannot find the money to bring them back. In addition, 10 teacher aides will be laid off. Another teacher will continue his work during the day but will lose his job as an alternative education teacher at night.
Several students attended the meeting to support teachers they knew who were on the list to be furloughed. Austin Groff and Logan May, both seniors, were there to support their lacrosse coach and social studies teacher Daniel Quickel.
During the public comments, several students voiced concerns about what would happen to the quality of their education if the teachers don't come back in the fall.
One junior, Jared Henderson, wondered if the variety of electives available for students would be affected. Lonardi responded and said classes that are chosen most by students during course selection will be offered. But Henderson said after the meeting he's concerned the remaining teachers will have so much to do while teaching their basic classes, that they won't have the time to teach electives that were once offered.
"I'm concerned for the people who are gong to follow me," Henderson said.
Building vs. teachers: One resident also pointed to the simultaneous plans to expand the school buildings, saying it is "morally wrong" to expand buildings while reducing staff. Susan Walters, another resident, said it is "appalling" to build a new gym in a land-locked district when the current gym is rarely full.
Lonardi and the board did not address the contrast between the building and the cuts at the meeting Tuesday. But in the past Lonardi has said even if the board decided to do nothing with the buildings, the teachers would still be furloughed. The money for the renovation project is bond money, which means it can't be used for anything except for the buildings, she has said, and the board decided to maintain the buildings, despite the "odd" time that the bonds came up for renewal.
Board president Rodney Drawbaugh said Tuesday the decision to approve the cuts was a difficult one.
"If there were other ways to attack this, believe me, this board would have taken those steps," he said.
Board member Ralph Brandt said this was the toughest decision he has made as a board member, and that he knows reducing staff is "counterproductive" to increasing the quality of education. But Brandt said he investigated several alternatives, such as cutting athletics or raising taxes as much as 10 percent, and no other options were viable.
The professional staff members furloughed could regain their positions if there are additional retirements or resignations before the end of the year. Those staff members also have a right to apply first for any new positions that would open in the future.
Lonardi said the district is writing recommendations and doing everything it can to provide for the staff who are affected.
"The people on this list — they are awesome at their craft," Lonardi said.
Drawbaugh finished his comments on the cuts by thanking the staff who were affected for their hard work in the district.
"We're sorry," he said. "And we'll do our best to get you back if we can."
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.