PLEASANTVILLE — Two principals on special assignment, two deans of students and the district’s director of curriculum are among the positions the Pleasantville School District is proposing to cut to balance its budget this year.
During a lengthy meeting Tuesday, the Board of Education approved an $88.3 million budget for next year that included a 2% increase in the school tax levy and the reduction of 11 positions, but not before receiving a verbal lashing from residents over the cuts and $1.3 million in legal fees paid out last year.
“You don’t do what’s right. You have personal vendettas and you go after people and that’s why we have these lawsuits,” said Juanita Hyman, of Egg Harbor Township.
Business Administrator Elisha Thompkins said the cuts are necessary to balance the budget. He said it doesn’t happen by magic.
“I look at all the costs,” he said. “If you left everything the same, there are no savings.”
He said 70 percent of the budget is made up of fixed costs.
“That’s before you even get to a classroom with supplies,” he said. “You have numbers. You have to figure out how to make them fit. The reality is this is what it is.”
Board member Jerome Page questioned the cuts as well.
“This budget scares me because it shows me someone is giving up on this district,” Page said. “This budget is moving for failure, this district is moving for failure.”
Page told board President Carla Thomas he had no confidence in her and asked her to step down.
“Because you’re not leading this board. We need a leader, we don’t need an organization,” Page said.
Thomas said she didn’t come to the meeting Tuesday to debate with Page.
“I came here tonight to pass a budget and to take care of business in the regular board meeting,” Thomas said.
Despite the voiced concern, the budget passed unanimously by all six members who attended. Board members Hassan Callaway, Cassandra Clements and Sharnell Morgan were not present.
After a lengthy closed-door session, the board reconvened but did not take action on personnel items including the 11 positions being reduced and several staff transfers. Those items are being postponed until the May 14 meeting, Thompkins said.
Prior to the meeting, Superintendent Clarence Alston told The Press that Atlantic County Executive Superintendent Robert Bumpus ordered the district to eliminate positions that are unrecognized, such as dean of students and principals on special assignment.
“To do that, it required us to implement seniority protocol where everyone had to be placed in a position that was recognized,” Alston said. “It’s been a bumping process that has for the most part impacted all of these (positions). That’s kind of where we are.”
Bumpus was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Alston said there may be some savings, but none of that will be realized until all retirees are accounted for. He said the reductions were prompted by budgetary needs.
In total, the salaries of those 11 positions amount to more than $800,000, not including the costs of pension and health benefits, but many of the people who hold those positions were reassigned elsewhere, among them athletic director Stephen Townsend, who is classified as a principal on special assignment.
Under this plan, Townsend would be moved to serve as principal of the Middle School of Pleasantville. The middle school’s current principal, Rayna Hendricks, would be moved to the high school as an assistant principal.
Alston couldn’t say how or if the district would fill the role of athletic director in the future. Townsend’s position as athletic director was in jeopardy last year when the board considered moving him to a different assignment, but an outpouring of support from the district saved him.
“We are actually going to have to work out what to do to make sure the program doesn’t suffer,” Alston said. “That’s a challenge we’re going to have to work out.”
Under the proposal, the second principal on special assignment, Nanette Stuart, is being moved to the South Main Street School as principal. The reduction in force eliminates the positions for two deans of students, Angelika Sims and Aaron Washington. Washington would be reassigned as a teacher in the middle school.
The position of director of curriculum and instruction is also part of the eight-position reduction in force, and the current director, Noelle Jacquelin, is not listed for reassignment.
Karen Brooks, a preschool teacher, and three long-term substitutes, Stephen Phifer, Asia Rehder and Rebekah Rosenberg, are also part of the reduction in force and were not reassigned.
Kelli Best, the district coordinator of guidance, who earns $111,000, was on the reduction-in-force list Tuesday morning, but by the meeting that evening, her name was removed.
“We need to know why,” Page said.
State monitor Constance Bauer agreed it needed to be clarified whether the budget being approved Tuesday night included Best’s salary.