The chanting began as soon as the board members entered the room at 141 Park Street. “No outsourcing! No outsourcing!” the large crowd of Montclair Educational Association(MEA) members shouted while waving signs to protest the board’s decision to outsource the district’s aides.
The MEA, which had been largely absent from previous Board of Education (BoE) meetings, turned out in full force for the final budget meeting. Only one member, however, stood up to speak during the public comment portion of the evening, and after the rest of the commenters (three) took the mic, a majority of MEA members walked out of the meeting, shouting, “You should be ashamed.”
The exact nature of their frustration was unclear, but it appeared the members were upset by the short public comment session. Board President Shelly Lombard emphasized the board allows for all comments, but only four people had signed up to speak. They were all called.
The MEA members did not exit before listening to Board Vice President Leslie Larson’s prepared statement, which she read in response to union member Joyce Weeg’s question: “Why are you now cutting aides which will affect educational instruction?”
We’ve heard about the “Race to Nowhere” for a select group of kids, and now we find there’s another race: The “arms race,” which apparently follows immediately after.
In fact, the escalation of this “arms race” to get into a premier college is the subject of an article written by a Montclair author and mother of college-bound twins in The Wall Street Journal.
The writer, Jennifer Moses, admits getting caught up in the insanity and forking over “unspeakable” sums to position her son and daughter to claim spots at the most prestigious schools. Or, at least, go broke trying.
Moses and her husband hired two separate tutors – one for each child – after they went through half a dozen others not worth their pricey fee. But it worked. Moses noted her daughter’s test scores went up as did those of nearly every student in her class, almost all of whom had also availed themselves of the tutor’s services. This was after shelling out nearly $30,000 a year to send the daughter to private school.
The room at Mt. Hebron Middle School was filled last night as Dr. Frank Alvarez, Superintendent of Montclair schools, addressed the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) at their monthly meeting to discuss several of the council’s concerns and introduce the new Director of Pupil Services, Linda Mithaug.
The council invited Alvarez to speak on pressing issues as he has done annually for the past several years. Last night’s discussion focused on the possible outsourcing of Special Education Aides, the proposal to bring out-of-district students back as well as attract students from other districts to generate revenue, and the transition of IEP services when a child changes schools.
Alvarez stated of the $28M spent on special education from the school budget $8M goes to aides. He suggested the district could save $2M by changing the procedure by which aides are hired. The proposal under consideration, which has been used by other districts, is to privatize the aides through coordination with a county agency that will allow the district to hire them back – this time without a union contract. It works like this: the district will eliminate the aides they currently employ; the aides will then be rehired by a county agency; and the district can select the aides they wish to hire back. The projected saving is essentially all in benefits the district would no longer be obligated to pay the aides.