Northern York cuts 27 full-time aides to help balance preliminary budget

Dillsburg Elementary School celebrated Drop Everything and Read Day in honor of author Beverly Cleary on April 12, Cleary's birthday. Students all over the building celebrated by reading some of their favorite books. Pictured are students from Mrs. Colgan's first-grade class.

Northern York County School District is eliminating 27 full-time aide positions from its payroll effective June 30 in an effort to slash spending in next year's budget.

School board members approved the cuts unanimously Tuesday as an addendum to the agenda following the passage of a preliminary budget resolution.

That budget of about $50.7 million, also approved unanimously by the board, includes a tax increase of 3.3% — adding $57.65 to the bill of an owner of a $100,000 home. The total is an $182,223 increase over the 2019-20 budget.

The staffing reductions are expected to save the district $453,773 in the coming budget cycle, said district spokesperson Vangie Unti.

Though their positions with the district will end June 30, the aides will have the option to continue in their current assignment as contracted employees through ESS Support Services, she said.

More:Where are they now? York County school budgets 2020-21

As part of the transition, she said, they will have a 6% raise to their existing hourly rate and be eligible to participate in ESS’s health care options and retirement plan.

Northern aides are currently paid between $11.33 and $19.19 per hour, she said.

Though employees would still be able to work the same number of hours through ESS, there would be a significant cost savings to the district because it would no longer have to pay health insurance costs and PSERS retirement contributions, Unti said.

The cuts, though, raised the ire of several district employees. 

Molly Atkinson, who teaches special education at Northern Middle School, said she's been in the district for seven years and never had a board member or administrator visit her classroom.

"Our aides are absolutely priceless and should be treated as such," she said, adding that although it's a large sum to keep them, it's definitely worth every penny. 

She encouraged board members to revisit the decision before the final budget is approved June 23.

Two Dillsburg Elementary aides who each had the job for at least two decades also expressed their frustration that district officials do not realize how much they do for students, especially those with disabilities who need extra support.

More:York County school districts brace for $1 million or more budget hits

"I can go find another job, but these kids don’t have a choice to find another school," said one of the aides, Brenda Heisey.

Board President Ken Sechrist thanked everyone in the community who reached out to the board recently about the issue, acknowledging it is a highly emotional one.

But the board's budget and finance chair, Gregory Hlatky, said the proposed budget still has a shortfall of about $557,000, and regardless of how emotional it has been to get to this point, "we're still not there."

It was a tough budget year even without COVID-19, said Superintendent Eric Eshbach, who is retiring in June.

More:New superintendent to start at Northern York schools on July 1

Steven Kirkpatrick will be new superintendent at Northern York County School District effective July 1, 2020.

The cuts to district staff should not go unnoticed, but are not coming out of nowhere, he said, recalling times he stressed Pennsylvania schools need more government support.

Eshbach remembers a former board member saying, "What are they going to do, let us go bankrupt?" and he's not so sure that's not true.

He plans to advocate in his new role as assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania Principals Association, a professional organization dedicated to the advancement of public school principals.