MULLICA HILL Following what could have been the start of her last days cleaning the halls of the Pioneers, Lina Scarpaci wore a bright yellow sweater.
"I try to be positive," the 50-year-old custodial worker at Clearview Regional High School said Wednesday night of her cheerful attire. "That's all I can do."
Scarpaci, who has been in her position for 25 years, was one of 14 custodial workers at the district's middle and high school whose jobs remained in limbo until Wednesday night, as school officials mulled privatizing the work to help balance a $37.8 million budget.
After weeks of uncertainty and a lengthy presentation of the budget, the district decided it was able to retain the employees.
Superintendent John Horchak had maintained throughout the process that staff reductions would be eyed only if all other options were exhausted.
"I remain committed to the same ideals," Horchak said.
In part, Horchak said, the state has indicated that the district can move forward with an alternative teacher-evaluation plan that will mean fewer classroom visits. The district, he said, had considered hiring a full-time evaluator because of the high numbers of evaluations required.
"When you're really, really tight, you have to assume things are going against you and hope they fall in place," he said.
School officials have cited several factors - such as increasing numbers of students being sent out of the district, and costs for about 150 computers needed to comply with a state test, as well as a drop in state debt-service aid - in causing a shortfall. Esther Pennell, business administrator, said a gap of about $300,000 remained when the district began looking at privatization, after other cost-saving measures.
Other districts in the area have also outsourced certain services, such as transportation and cafeteria providers in Greenwich and substitutes in Deptford, according to a survey provided by Clearview.
The idea of privatization was met by opposition among teachers and students, who testified at a recent school board meeting attended by more than 200 people. Lawn signs in the area decried "strangers" being brought into the district.
But district leaders said they had to weigh their options, and received bids that could have provided some savings. Among other cost-saving measures implemented, the district is moving into a new health-care plan.
School taxes in the two municipalities served by the district are also set to go up by the 2 percent state limit.
In Mantua, the owner of a property assessed at the district average of $204,135 will pay $64 more a year. In Harrison, the owner of a property assessed at $313,567 will pay an additional $36.
At the meeting, the district's announcement was met by applause and hugs.
Mike Larmond, a middle school custodial worker, said he spent Wednesday as he does every school day, beginning at 5:30 a.m. opening the school and taking food from the freezer for the cafeteria workers.
"I can sleep tonight," the 58-year-old Washington Township resident and Jamaican native said, noting a loss of sleep during a nerve-racking period.
Similarly, Scarpaci said she went to work thinking, "It's one day less."
"I love every September," she added.