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.