Emanuel Lutheran teachers left unpaid prior to school closure
Parents have since set up a GoFundMe, raising over $1,500 in two weeks to help pay teacher and staff payroll for the month of June.

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Emanuel Lutheran teachers left unpaid prior to school closure

Story By: NICOLE FUENTES
6/27/2019


Emanuel Lutheran teachers left unpaid prior to school closure

 

 

The school closed its doors for good last week due to lack of funding and has been unable to pay the remaining salaries of teachers and staff on the way out.

Prior to the closing, Emanuel Lutheran Church Council treasurer Kevin Brazier sent out a letter requesting parents help pay the payroll balances for teachers and school employees.

“Due to our current financial situation, we will not be able to fulfill our payroll obligations to the teachers and school employees in a timely fashion,” he wrote.

Brazier requested parents consider donating by submitting checks to the school in the collection plate or at the church office.

“This letter is just beyond maddening,” said Megan Petretti, parent of two daughters who have attended the school for years. “The council closed the school, fired the teachers and on the way out they are going to do this? Unbelievable.”

Petretti, of Medford, had hoped the school would have reached out to parents months ago to help save the school, but when that didn’t happen, she was shocked to hear the council ask for money to help pay their debts.

According to Brazier, all employees, including teachers, a custodian and a cafeteria employee, have not received their last paycheck, but, he said, the school fully intends to pay them as soon as possible.

“We are planning to take care of this as quickly and diligently as possible,” he said, declining to disclose the amount owed, stating that all teachers and staff have been paid to date, other than the last paycheck. “We have been struggling for years, so have many parishes. It’s a very difficult time for our church.”

Former principal Denise Norman, who has served the school for the past 23 years, was also among those left jobless. She confirmed not being paid, but was unable to be reached for further comment.

Petretti said she “wrestled” with the request to help pay the teachers because she didn’t want to help the council, but at the same time felt the teachers deserved their compensation. During several fundraisers held throughout the school year, she felt that, if they had known the school was in danger of closing or feared being not able to pay their teachers, the fundraisers should have been more internally focused. However, Brazier said among the several fundraisers held for the school itself, efforts were still not enough.

“They are the most incredible group of women I could ever hope to meet,” Petretti said of the over a dozen teachers and staff, who are now left jobless. “They came to work every day and smiled; they were amazing with my kids up until the last day. I couldn’t imagine coming to work happy and not being paid.”

Petretti has yet to decide where she will be sending her children, now going into grades five and two, next year, but is considering her home district, Pat-Med.

A GoFundMe has since been created by parents to help pay the teachers — who finished the school year last Wednesday, June 19 — with a goal of $40,000. Over $1,500 has been collected so far by 13 people in two weeks.

Patchogue Village resident Lisa DeRosa, parent of a third-grader, said she was also shocked and upset by the closing and, even as a PTA member, knew nothing about it.

“You would think being in the PTA we would know a little more, but we were left in the dark,” she said. “These teachers still came in every single day and were good to the children. I had no idea they weren’t receiving a [pay}.”

According to DeRosa, she and a few other parents who had a hand in setting up the GoFundMe were under the understanding that teachers had not been paid for the entire month of June and one month of payroll totaled about $40,000.

“It upsets me, because where is our tuition money going?” she questioned. Tuition was about $620 per month just prior to the closure. “It wasn’t cheap, but the education was second to none,” she added.

Should the church step up and pay the teachers, any and all money collected during the GoFundMe fundraiser, she said, would happily be returned.

“We just want to make sure they get what they deserve. They had no chance to save or anything,” she continued.

According to Brazier, about 58 students were registered in grades K-8 this year. At one point in time, over 225 students were enrolled. Next year, only about 26 children would have been registered.

“We just can’t afford it,” he said, explaining that one teacher would have cost over $20,000 a year and could have potentially only one student.

Payroll is not the only expense, though the budget for the private school is not available to the public. Brazier said other costs, including electric, sewer costs and maintenance, factor in. He’s hoping to have all the debts paid by the end of month and has reached out to Synod, the council of the church, for help in doing so.

BACKGROUND

During a mandatory meeting held last month, the church committee of the Emanuel Lutheran School in Patchogue unexpectedly announced to parents that they intended to close the facility as of the end of the 2018-19 school year. Teachers and staff didn’t get the message much sooner, all being forced to find other employment.

At that time, Brazier stated that the pre-k program for children aged 2-4 would remain open with intentions to “regrow the school” depending on demands.

ABOUT THE SCHOOL

The Emanuel Lutheran Church was organized and erected in 1912 by the Rev. Hermann Zoller, who served until 1932. Then came the Rev. Carl Gernannt until 1956 and the Rev. William Hinlicky, who organized the school in 1957.

The school originally opened with 17 students in kindergarten and first grade. The first principal was Ray Steinert and the first teacher was Miss Charlotte Streck. About 10 years later, in 1968, a nursery for 3- and 4-year-olds was added and by 1969, the seventh and eighth grades. On March 3, 1982, a fire destroyed the school and church. With fortunately no injuries, a new church building was dedicated the very next year. Then, in 1993, the congregation approved building a new early childhood center and by 1997, a full-day preschool program was added. They officially closed their doors last week. Pre-K will continue.