School Board Approves Budget Outsourcing Aides
Teacher aides and union members marched out in the middle of Monday night's school board meeting.
A school board meeting that promised great drama when dozens of incensed union members stormed out yelling "you should be ashamed" evolved into a quiet vote on the 2011-2012 budget with no discussion among members.
The $110 million budget would outsource the district's aides and would also result in a 1.4 percent decrease in the school tax rate that translates to about $131 each year per average household.
School board members reiterated that—although they voted unanimously to approve the budget Monday night—there would be ample opportunities to reallocate funds in the next several weeks.
The meeting started with a bang when union members and teacher aides waved signs and chanted "no outsourcing" when school board members entered the meeting room.
After board members quieted the crowd, Business Administrator Dana Sullivan gave a brief synopsis of the budget, which restores nearly $1 million of the $4.5 million in cuts outlined at various board meetings earlier in the year.
The budget of $110,035,941 for 2011-2012 is a decrease of 2.65 percent when compared with the $113,035,705 budget of 2010-2011.
The outsourcing of more than 200 aides, which will save $1.7 million in annual costs, remained on the table Monday night despite the roomful of aides and parents waving signs with messages such as: "You lose your best workers by outsourcing."
After Sullivan's presentation, it was time for comments.
Joyce Weeg, vice president of the Montclair Education Association, said that, since December, the union has put forth various ideas designed to stop outsourcing.
She urged the board not to "make cuts that would severely impact classroom instruction."
Just last week, the union proposed the implementation of a flat tax of $131—or the exact amount of the decrease in the school tax portion of an average household's bill.
But Leslie Larson, school board member, noted that the recommendation to outsource had been on the table since October and that "only in the last few weeks have we heard from the MEA."
She also said that most of Montclair's neighboring towns already have started the process of outsourcing, adding that "there is a 25 percent turnover rate in aides every year."
Larson, who said cost-cutting decisions were "heart-wrenching," emphasized that board members will continue negotiating with the MEA.
At this point, School Board President Shelly Lombard called for public comment and four people stood up mostly to voice their support for the aides—the only four people who had signed up to speak.
When Lombard called an end to public comment so that the board might move on to the next agenda items, several people in the audience demanded to be heard.
After Lombard reiterated that only four people had signed up, dozens of people suddenly marched out of the meeting, shouting "shame on you" as they left.
Later in the evening, an MEA member who had remained apologized for the behavior of those who left the meeting before a vote was taken on the budget, saying she was embarrassed by the way they handled themselves.
Meanwhile, at Monday night's meeting, Sullivan reiterated the board's hope that money can be invested in the following areas next year:
—Montclair High School small learning communities $300,000
—Teachers college ready and writing programs $20,000
—Part-time floating librarians at all the schools $80,000
—Technology review district-wide $75,000
—Consultant to look at restructuring the district $75,000
Also on Monday night, the school board unanimously approved a 2011-2012 capital budget totaling $1,621,500. Money would go towards:
—Site improvements $40,000
—Environmental issues $75,000
—Technology district-wide $375,000
—Other projects $795,000
The next school board meeting is Monday, April 11. You can find out more about the budgets by going here.