This summer the entire staff of the Riverside Presbyterian Church preschool left and opened a competing preschool in another church in Riverside. The move came after an acrimonious summer when Riverside Presbyterian wanted to make some changes in the structure of the preschool.

Rejecting two contract offers, director Lisa Manganiello and her entire staff of four teachers decided to bolt and form their own preschool. Their new preschool, called Riverside Preschool, is run out of the Sts. Peter and Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, 250 Woodside Road, in Riverside.

The new preschool has 10 students and is looking to enroll more. All the students come from families that used to send their children to the Riverside Presbyterian Church preschool.

Manganiello was reluctant to go into detail about what led her to form her own preschool after working at the Riverside Presbyterian Church preschool for 14 years advancing from an aide to director. She directed the preschool for three years. 

“I just want to move forward,” Manganiello said. “We’re very happy where we are right now. … I wish everybody well, and I hope everybody wishes me well in my new venture and all of us over here.”

The preschool committee of Riverside Presbyterian Church began examining the preschool early last year. For years, the preschool had operated as pretty much a standalone operation and some church members wanted the preschool to have a closer connection to the church.

Some were concerned that the director of the preschool was not a church member. Manganiello is Roman Catholic. Her predecessor, longtime director Nancy Dvorak, was a member of Riverside Presbyterian. 

Some at Riverside Presbyterian were also concerned that Manganiello was not a college graduate and were concerned that at least one of the teachers did not have enough coursework in early childhood education to be certified in 2017, when new rules are scheduled to take effect. 

Some committee members also thought the preschool should have a more academically focused curriculum rather than the play-based program that Manganiello runs.

When looking over the affairs of the preschool, committee members noticed that the preschool staff members were getting year-end bonuses, or lump-sum payments, that didn’t have taxes taken out of them.

And the church was losing money on the preschool.

“We have had declining enrollment for a number of years, so we are not really covering our costs,” said Jeanine Buttimer, the bursar of the preschool and a deacon at Riverside Presbyterian Church. “We had a slightly bigger staff than what we needed.”

Riverside Presbyterian decided to post the preschool positions over the summer and made the staff reapply for their jobs. Riverside Presbyterian made two contract offers over the summer to Manganiello and her staff. The first offer eliminated the bonuses and would have resulted in a pay cut for Manganiello and the rest of the staff. The second offer, which included a pay increase, would have eliminated the position of one teacher and moved Manganiello to a more administrative role.

The preschool that had been run out of Sts. Peter and Paul was closing and Manganiello decided to start her own preschool.

“It was just time to move on,” Manganiello said. “We had this opportunity here. This preschool was closing. Everything just fell into our laps and we just jumped and went.”

The preschool staff sent letters to Riverside Presbyterian preschool families saying that would not be returning to the Riverside Presbyterian preschool and were looking to start their own preschool.

Many parents were confused and upset and wondered what to do. Some followed the staff to their new preschool; some found another preschool and some stayed at Riverside Presbyterian. 

“I think the parents were put in bad position,” Buttimer said. “I think it is a shame that there is so much misinformation out in the community, but I think we’re all going to get over it.”

Enrollment at the Riverside Presbyterian preschool, with an entirely new staff, stands at about 25 students, down from 56 last year.

“Some of the students that had enrolled with us went with the former staff, but we’re doing fine,” said Mary Ann Sadilek, an elder at Riverside Presbyterian. “It’ll take a couple years probably to get everything going, but it’s going to be expanded and I think it’s going to be really, really good.”

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