School District Paraprofessionals Out In Force Against Privatization

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Paraprofessional Monica Espinosa speaks against privatization.

School district teachers’ aides showed up in force at the Feb. 17 Board of Education meeting to tell the board just what they thought of yet another proposal to outsource their jobs.

In a nutshell: Not much.

Over the course of more than two hours, the paraprofessionals and their supporters took the podium during the meeting’s public portion to warn the board that any attempt to privatize their jobs would harm students and would leave them without enough employees to fill all the positions.

And Lori Mountainland, president of the Franklin Township Education Association, told the board that privatizing the paraprofessionals would damage future contract negotiations between her union and the board.

Discussing privatizing the paraprofessionals and the district’s substitute teachers was one of a handful of agenda items at the special meeting. The board is expected to act on the privatization proposals – seen as a way to help make up a nearly $2 million budget gap – at its Feb. 20 meeting.

While privatizing substitute teachers is also part of the proposal, only two of the approximately 43 people who spoke at the meeting addressed that topic.

There are no hard-and-fast details on the privatization yet, as the district is awaiting proposals from educational services commissions in Hunterdon, Middlesex and Passaic counties, said Brian Bonanno, the district’s manager of administrative services. Bonanno said the criteria for the contracts include giving preference for the jobs to the district’s current 123 paraprofessionals, offering benefits to employees, but not their families, and maintaining their current pension plan.

Bonanno told the board that based on preliminary estimates, the district could save more than $673,000 in salary costs alone in the first year – the 2014-2015 school year – through privatization. He said those salary savings would increase to more than $757,000 in year two, $931,000 in year three and more than $1.1 million by the 2017-2018 school year.

The savings, said district business administrator John Calavano, “will last for a long time.”

Bonanno said he’s still waiting for additional information to be able to calculate how much money the district could save by privatizing its substitute teachers.

“Proposals are due March 7,” he said, and would be reviewed between March 10 and 15.

“Then we’ll come back to the board with a recommendation,” he said.

Other cost-saving measures the district is looking at include eliminating courtesy busing for 2,100 students, which would save $1.5 milion, Calavano said, and the elimination of late buses, which would save about $291,000.

Interim schools Superintendent Eveny Pagan told the board that the administration had managed to cut the projected 2014-2015 budget gap from nearly $4 million to about $1.75 million.

Pagan said 91 percent of the budget’s growth is in the personnel area and and savings would probably have to come from there.

School board members didn’t seem convinced that outsourcing was the way to go. Board members such as vice president Eva Nagy and Nancy LaCorte worried about continuity for special needs students.

“This is really a gamble that we’re taking,” Nagy said. She said believing that all the district’s paraprofessionals would seek jobs with an outside company is “wishful thinking.”

Laurel Kane of Kingston told the board that she’s been working with a blind student for years, but she wouldn’t be able to continue if her job is outsourced.

“He’s the reason I have this job,” she said of her student. “If you privatize and take away my benefits, I cannot work with (him) anymore.”

Another paraprofessional, Paula Jara of Somerset, told the board that teachers’ aides develop relationships with their students, and cannot simply be switched from classroom to classroom.

Carol Callaghan of Somerset told the board that the majority of paraprofessionals would not work for an outside company.

“If you choose to privatize, you will most like lose over 100 capable paraprofessionals,” she said.

Mountainland told the board that the union would consider any privatization a “breach” of their contract and could “cause future negotiations with the board to be difficult.”

At the end of the session, school board president Julia Presley said the board would take the comments into consideration.

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