A Primer On The Situation With Aides And Benefits

Sources say the issue is more complicated than the union makes it seem


At a school board meeting Monday night, Gayl Shepard, the head of the Montclair Education Association, said there was no reason why health benefits shouldn't be restored to the district's classroom aides.

She insisted that previous assertions by school board members and their attorney that the district's labor contract with the MEA had to be re-opened before benefits could be restored simply wasn't true.

After speaking with various Montclair Public Schools sources, Montclair Patch has determined that the MEA has proposed a way to get around the legal restriction presented by the board's attorney.

The MEA has asked that the aides be reclassified as full-time employees so that their benefits might be immediately restored.

But school board officials said that this change in status would indeed have to be part of labor negotiations. Not only would the additional work hours required to make aides full-time employees have to be considered, but the salary increases already granted to the aides this year to help offset the loss of insurance would have to be part of new negotiations.

At Monday night's school board meeting, school board members clearly looked uncomfortable as they told Shepard that the restoration of benefits would absolutely have to be part of labor negotiations with the MEA, which represents nearly 1,100 teachers, aides, and school staff.

Those negotiations, they said, could begin as early as February.

School board officials reiterated that when aides lost their benefits last year, they also were given a raise. Granted, it wasn't enough to completely offset the loss of health benefits, but it was a raise nonetheless.

So, in short, benefits can't be restored without addressing this raise, and that requires a re-opening of the labor contract.

If the school board does what the MEA wants, then aides get to keep their raise and also get to work two additional hours a week, which would make them full-time employees.

And there's no guarantee that the new labor contract will even be re-negotiated any time soon even though it's due to expire in June 2012.

One of the main points of contention among MEA members is the $5.7 million surplus announced at the end of 2011.

But School Board President Shelly Lombard said that only about $800,000 of that money can be spent this spring while the rest will have to be applied towards tax relief in the 2012/2013 year.

She said at least some of that $800,000 would most likely be spent on new textbooks.

In addition, principals at all schools would be asked about their own schools' immediate needs.

Classroom aides have been a familiar presence at school board meetings since last spring, when spending cuts resulted in most classroom aides losing their health insurance as part of a move to save the district $1.3 million.

For more information on this topic, go

MC January 25, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Thanks for the follow-up story and additional information.
allaboutthenumbers123 January 25, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Information requested through OPRA requests indicate that the benefit costs per town employee run approximately $20k if they are married and get family coverage. For single coverage, it looks like these costs approximate $10k. How many aides are there again?
Shelley Emling (Editor) January 25, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Do you know that I actually asked that question and no one has been able to tell me yet?? Does anyone out there know?
A. Gideon January 25, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I have what may be an out-of-date number of 229. I also have reason to question this number's accuracy. It may be that who I see classified as "aide" isn't identical to the definition being used for this discussion. ...Andrew
A. Gideon January 25, 2012 at 04:07 PM
"Information requested through OPRA requests..." I've seen this posted in a couple of threads. I'd like more information, as I'm somewhat skeptical of the assertion being made here given that we largely self-insure for health care in this district. I would also be surprised to learn that an OPRA request would either (1) be required or (2) be sufficient to get these numbers given limitations on how OPRA defines a request. As I understand it, OPRA requires specification of a document. What document would provide this information? Since we are largely self-insuring, I wouldn't expect there to be "a policy" with a price schedule to be requested as such. ...Andrew
allaboutthenumbers123 January 25, 2012 at 04:24 PM
It is said that there are approximately 200. Assume 1/2 are looking for single coverage and the other 1/2 for family coverage. That would make the benefit cost approximately $15k per aide. That is a total cost of approximately $3mm per year. The other option would be to use this money is to update technology and facilities. Year 1, $3mm could be used to buy every student in the High School a lap top at full retail (to be returned at graduation or leaving the schools, insurance would be needed, other schools have had success with this). Textbooks are now available on-line, where they can be updated on a regular basis at rates less than buying a hard copy book). Homework could be assigned and submitted on-line. Year 2, some for lap tops for middle school students and some for facilities, etc... What is going on in the industry? Is it hard to fill the aide jobs as they come available? What is best for the students? What is best for the town? Is there a strategic plan for this type of analysis? Has the BOE or sub groups evaluated what the biggest needs are going forward?
allaboutthenumbers123 January 25, 2012 at 04:36 PM
A. Under OPRA the request from a prior, but recent year, the information obtained was the cost per employee for health, dental, prescription and vision. Total positions included on this schedule was 388, for municipal staff.
A. Gideon January 25, 2012 at 04:42 PM
"the information obtained was the cost per employee for health, dental, prescription and vision" Ah, I see. What was that total number? ...Andrew
A. Gideon January 25, 2012 at 04:54 PM
"What is going on in the industry? Is it hard to fill the aide jobs as they come available? What is best for the students?" These are excellent questions, but they consider this issue a matter of financial and academic responsibility rather than moral rectitude. That's not the typical direction of this conversation. What I recall hearing at several BOE meetings when this issue was first under discussion is that several other districts "in the area" have made "this change". Note that I'm not entirely clear exactly what "this change" means. Is it out-sourcing (which was the original discussion)? Classifying aides as P/T? Something else? There was a lot of back-and-forth about the quality of the work of the aides in one of the Oranges since they'd made the change. From what I've heard, we've had no difficulties hiring new aides, but I've seen no real numbers addressing this. May I suggest that these are questions that can be asked of the BOE in a future meeting? They, and the resulting answers and discussion, may be helpful to us as a town. As I wrote above, these are looking at this issue from a direction not normally taken in these public discussions. ...Andrew
allaboutthenumbers123 January 25, 2012 at 08:46 PM
What is the mission of the BOE and school system? I assume the mission of the school system and the BOE is for the education of Montclair's k-12 students.


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