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MEA: Give Teacher Aides Back Their Health Benefits

"It would be an act of contrition," said new MEA president.

At the first school board meeting of the year Monday night, the union representing the Montclair School District's teachers and other school employees asked board members to consider returning health benefits to teacher aides.

The issue of aides dominated budget talks in the spring, with most paraprofessionals losing their health insurance, a move that saved the district $1.3 million.

Gayle Shepard, the new president of the Montclair Education Association, went to the podium Monday night armed with a long list of facts for the crowd—and especially for the board.

She reminded them that the district saved $3.1 million from MEA layoffs in 2010 and another $750,000 from MEA layoffs in 2011.

In total, Shepard said that MEA members had given back $8.6 million in 2010 and 2011.

When it comes to the teacher aides, or paraprofessionals, she said that their average take-home pay is $2,096 a month of which $1,267 goes to pay for COBRA.

"So about $828 a month is what the paraprofessional is bringing home per month," she said.

Shepard said that "it would be an act of contrition to return the health benefits to the paraprofessionals."

She told a number of stories of Montclair students who have benefited from the work of paraprofessionals over the years.

"Families will migrate to other towns if we take away choices of programs and positions that make our schools great," she asid.

In the end, Shepard received a huge round of applause from MEA members in the audience—but no comments from board members.

The Montclair Board of School Estimate approved the Board of Education's $110 million budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year in late March, a spending plan that lowered the school tax rate by 1.4 percent.

But the plan also included a controversial move to outsource the district's nearly 250 full- and part-time teacher aides—who would lose their health benefits—in order to save more than $1.3 million a year.

The MEA and BOE members worked out a deal that would allow aides with 20 years or more experience to buy into the health benefit plan by paying 15 percent of the premiums.

But aides argued at the time that there were only a dozen aides with that much experience and that there was no guarantee they'd be offered a contract for next year.

In other news from Monday night's meeting, Alvarez said the district has begun the search for a new principal at Edgemont Elementary School as well as for a new assistant superintendent for instruction to succeed Terry Trigg-Scales, who retired last year. Currently the post is being filled on an interim basis by Clarence Hoover, the retired former school superintendent in East Orange.

The next Montclair school board meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

QBY33 September 21, 2011 at 11:34 PM
After all that reading, all I have to say is. I still can't believe that the town, the BOE, the parents and the whole MEA didn't stand up for the TA's to keep their benefits. We have janitors, secretaries and others that don't even have direct contact with the children with benefits. But, not the aides who help with the children in SOOOOOO many different ways everyday, not entitled to health benefits. It's simply a SHAME!
Rhiannon September 22, 2011 at 04:19 AM
Stu's Wife, what makes you think that Mtc has not tried to change their DFG? A couple of years ago, I was at a BOE meeting in which they were discussing just that. It's not an image thing...it's a formula developed by the state that people in the town have tried to work around. I don't think you have any evidence to back up your claim but if you do, please offer it up.
Kevin September 22, 2011 at 12:27 PM
The front page of the Star Ledger has some interesting stats regarding income. Essex County is down 6.7%. http://www.nj.com/starledger/pdf/thursday.pdf
Right of Center September 22, 2011 at 12:36 PM
Andrew, to fund is to control. That's how it works. Federal funding means federal control, state funding means state control. How do you think they force mandates on local districts? Don't be naive.
Montclair parent September 22, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Stu's wife: the short answer would have been for the school board to restore the school aides' health benefits with part of the extra cash it received for this year and then use it as a chip in the coming negotiations with the union -- to continue health benefits for all, everyone must pay more for them.Would have saved many aides from excruciating decisions and pain this school year. and who gives a damn what glen ridge is doing? different town, different demographics, different school district.
Butterfly September 22, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Healthcare costs are bound to go up; tax revenues are bound to go down. Expect more budget fights for this year. This discussion about re-instating Healthcare benefits for aides is distracting unless the MEA is open to re-negotiate their contract to save a meaningful percentage of the budget instead of this puny 1.3m AFAIK we still have 16 secretaries at the high school, more than one vice-principal at several schools and a bloated BOE admin staff.
Kevin September 22, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Isn't outsourcing the aides a chip they still hold?
Montclair parent September 22, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Butterfly, have you put a child through the high school? i have sent 2 through there. maybe it is a sad commentary on some of the department head but the secretaries are the ones the kids go see when they need to get something done. i agree the district office has fat that could be cut, especially to save more essential personnel. outsourcing the aides would be a horrible mistake and would lead to glorified baby sitting for the district's most vulnerable children. montclair should not surrender to the christie rhetoric that is a manifestation of the cut everything mentality from the right. without a sound public school system that serves ALL, what the hell is any suburban town worth, anyway? maybe that's a question people with the resources for private school don't care about. for everyone else it is the essential question.
A. Gideon September 22, 2011 at 06:24 PM
"This discussion about re-instating Healthcare benefits for aides is distracting unless the MEA is open to re-negotiate their contract to save a meaningful percentage of the budget instead of this puny 1.3m" The MEA contract is up for renewal/renegotiation this year. The MEA cannot refuse to negotiation, as it did last year. The attention being directed to the aides is precisely why the MEA President brought this up. She'll likely offer ultimately to "give up" the aide's for a 5% salary increase for the rest of the MEA, with the intention of settling for a 2% raise. [The aides would get that 2% too, of course, but that's a lot less meaningful at their salary level.] ...Andrew
A. Gideon September 22, 2011 at 06:34 PM
"Andrew, to fund is to control." No, that need not be the case. For a funny example from the news again, see Gov. Perry's finances. For legal reasons, he just pulled his money out of the blind trust. It turns out that he's some money invested in municipal bonds, but none investing in his state. I thought that very funny. But the point is that this was his money, but he'd given up control of it. "Federal funding means federal control" Only if it is structured that way. "How do you think they force mandates on local districts?" It's not that simple. If it were, then the districts that receive little state aid would be free to give up that aid and then ignore those mandates. Unfortunately, they cannot as the mandates are not generally/all tied to specific payment streams. Some are simply law. ...Andrew
Butterfly September 22, 2011 at 07:05 PM
MTC Parent, Its pretty much clear to me that the school budgets are bloated. Anecdotal facts, like # of vice-principals, # of secretaries go hand in hand with your statement about the actual benefit the HS secretaries provide for the students. If we as a local community can not make sure that we have an effective school organization, which utilizes our tax money to the best degree, then we open the doors to people like Christie, who do not believe in an unified public school system and who will use divide-and-conquer strategies to slowly dismantle the existing system. Charter schools per se are a nice example. Have you ever read the school budget? You will find line items ranging from $50 to millions. Not transparent at all.
Butterfly September 22, 2011 at 07:12 PM
Public employees expecting raises in economic times like this ? How about a 5% pay cut ?
Kevin September 22, 2011 at 08:05 PM
Andrew, you know better than that!
A. Gideon September 22, 2011 at 08:55 PM
@Kevin Clearly, I don't know better than that. What's the "that" than which I don't know better? ...Andrew
QBY33 September 22, 2011 at 10:52 PM
My question is.....why don't parents care who is with their child? Aides are in charge of the children for 45 miutes alone most days (during lunch and recess while teachers have lunch). I care who my child is with. I certainly wouldn't want it to be some temp from an agency if they outsource. Why aren't parents standing up for the TA's? Unbelievable. I don't like how Andrew keep pinning it on the Union. When parents talk in this town, the BOE reacts. Come on parents, step up to the plate!
Right of Center September 22, 2011 at 11:29 PM
The state can pass requirements, but the Feds can't. The Feds have NO control over education except via funding requirements. That is precisely how the federal government pushes its mandates. Even NCLB is "voluntary". I think to expect the state or federal government to fund education via taxes and NOT to exert control in some fashion is the very height of political naiveté.
Leslie Masuzzo September 23, 2011 at 02:19 AM
Decades ago Montclair created the magnet system to rectify social injustice in its school system. Since then Montclair has been a magnet for those seeking out its richly diverse schools. Sadly, we have come full circle to where the lowest paid staff of special education paraprofessionals who are disproportionately African American were forced out of the healthcare plan and hence a living wage. By the way, $1,200/month is for employee + 1, it's $1,700 out of $2,000 take home pay if you need family coverage. All parties discussed above are responsible in some way. Let's all work to recover Montclair's legacy of leadership on issues of social justice and provide access to a healthcare plan for Montclair paraprofessionals.
Butterfly September 23, 2011 at 02:39 AM
There is a finite amount of money available and we should be talking about the control of the cost increase drivers, priorities, and how to streamline the bloated administration.
Francine Moccio September 23, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Leslie - please let us know if you can what would be most effective for those of us who feel it is imperative for the aides to gain back their health coverage; there are many folks in Montclair who want to help the paraprofessionals.
Kevin September 23, 2011 at 11:34 AM
That funds come without controls.
Don September 23, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Check out http://www.pnhp.org for a breakdown of how we would save literally HALF of every healthcare dollar by getting rid of health insurance middlemen who add no value -saying no actually INCREASES NET COSTS to all dramatically because people are MUCH sicker when they finally seek care. (Or die.) Americans PAY far more and get far LESS than our counterparts in rich nations elsewhere. We are being ripped off by the politicians who get to dodge responsibility for everything that politicians elsewhere are held responsible for. Millions of us are dying unnecessarily because we avoid healthcare - because of costs we could not afford since the 1990s. The "choice" and "competition" memes are scams. Insurance CAN'T work anymore. Its too wasteful. At best, we get older, less effective treatments and pay more for them. More often Americans are casually misdiagnosed and herded into so called garbage diagnoses designed to avoid care. While they often have illnesses that could be cured. An MRI that costs under $200 in Japan or Europe.. costs $3000 here.. Whatever happened to that project in Montclair to reengineer the structure and track budget decisions online. Did anything come of it?
Don September 23, 2011 at 03:38 PM
The real reason the multinationals want a national committment to school privatization like we have made with healthcare insurance (Medicare) is that they can trade multi year bidded contracts (and good teacher jobs) in the US away-via BILATERAL trade agreements- for access to PROFITable, TAX FREE income in emergent markets, via GATS Mode Four. GATS is the free trade treaty in SERVICES, signed in 1993. (See http://webs2002.uab.es/_cs_gr_saps/publicacions/bonal/GATS%20a%20CER.pdf and http://www.bris.ac.uk/education/research/centres/ges/publications/04slr.pdf and 1000s of others) How naive we are.. They are discussing these tradeoffs in other countries, not here. In the belly of the beast, here its almost as if they have said, "Corruption is too important to be left to the politicians". Another media blackout, this time on the WTO and its activities, goals and methods, is in effect. Here, the creepy, dishonest politicians want us to believe they still CAN or WOULD "fix" things that in reality they are basically putting off the table,and soon, irreversibly beyond their own reach- they clearly plan to.
A. Gideon September 23, 2011 at 08:49 PM
"Leslie - please let us know if you can what would be most effective for those of us who feel it is imperative for the aides to gain back their health coverage; there are many folks in Montclair who want to help the paraprofessionals." Well, if you choose to ignore the union's culpability - taking that 2% raise while the aides lost their health care - then a good start would be to look at alternate funding sources that could cover the $1,300,000 that was saved by cutting that line item. I believe that the Save Our Schools group managed to bring in something like $5,000 in their effort to fund Edgemont. If you can sell 260 times the number of wrist bands that SOS did to those "many folks in Montclair who want to help the paraprofessionals" you'll solve the problem. ...Andrew
A. Gideon September 23, 2011 at 08:53 PM
"I don't like how Andrew keep pinning it on the Union." You mean that the organization that took a 2% raise in last year's economy rather than being willing to negotiate, essentially "throwing the aides under a bus" (to use someone else's expression), has no responsibility in the matter? ...Andrew
A. Gideon September 23, 2011 at 08:57 PM
"Let's all work to recover Montclair's legacy of leadership on issues of social justice and provide access to a healthcare plan for Montclair paraprofessionals." And what about the "social justice" of letting people that cannot afford continued tax increases live in Montclair? Or should we let Montclair become "wealthy only need apply"? Montclair offers a terrific education for our children, but if we're making that education available only to the wealthy, I don't think we're doing much for the issue of social justice. ...Andrew
QBY33 September 23, 2011 at 08:58 PM
I believe the teachers deserve at least a 2% raise each and every year for what they do for our children. You do know what their income is don't you? They aren't our neighbors in MONTCLAIR, are they???
A. Gideon September 23, 2011 at 09:01 PM
"That funds come without controls." Pushing for federal funding of schools would be a dramatic change. I don't know that adding this one detail would make it any more drastic (or difficult to achieve). ...Andrew
Kevin September 24, 2011 at 01:58 PM
If the funds come without controls, who is to say that it will be used for education? Perhaps what some consider education, would be very different from what others consider education, like spending $65,000 on a motivational speaker for the football team? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33810170/ns/us_news-life/t/stimulus-funds-trickle-down-debate-heats/
A. Gideon September 27, 2011 at 04:09 PM
"spending $65,000 on a motivational speaker for the football team?" You raise a good question with this, but I don't see it as limited to federal money. How do we know that BOE funds - or town funds, for that matter - are spent well? Federal control doesn't really address this, as there's no reason to assume that the federal level politicians are any better than the local politicians. We need to continue to work for transparency on the part of the BOE (and the township). The BOE made a good start last year, but more is possible. I'd love to see citizens given more than just that PDF or printed book of the BOE budget. This is a high-level aggregation; citizens should have access to the details. But even that is far more than the town provides. As candidates, the current council members made a big deal about "transparency". We need to hold the politicians accountable for promises such as this. ...Andrew
Dude September 30, 2011 at 05:16 AM
well the usual asses on here are wrong for the usual reasons, but why bother....the conservative fact-free bubble and faith-based economic dogma is impervious to truth and justice....however, just as an FYI - in case no one pointed this out (i didn't read every word of every comment), according to the new state law (i.e. act of supreme immorality and betrayal - and perhaps an unlawful one, too - by our elected leaders), all MEA employees receiving benefits will begin paying even more into premium costs starting with the new contract...it's based on a formula that factors in coverage (single, family, etc.) and salary...the highest bracket will be paying 35% of the cost of health insurance or 1.5% of their salary (whichever is bigger) by the fourth year of the phase-in (the "or 1.5% of salary, whichever is bigger" applies from the very beginning, not just the 4th year)...if the BOE doesn't use this money to help aides and also hire teachers to reduce class sizes, they will once again have acted immorally and unjustly

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