A union representative for Parsippany school district paraprofessionals says Superintendent LeRoy Seitz's nearly $130 million budget plan, which now does not include 24 kindergarten teacher's aides and assistants, is unacceptable.
In a presentation before the Board of Education at a special meeting last Thursday, Seitz said the 24 paras had to be cut due to a state regulation that says paras can only be used in kindergarten classes with more than 25 students.
Vickie Walsh of the New Jersey Education Association, who represents the Parsippany-Troy Hills Educational Support Association's paras, said Seitz's statement means one thing: layoffs.
"Twenty-four people are going to lose their positions," she warned. "We have in the contract a seniority clause. I know people who have been in these positions for more than 20 years. Some of them could be bumped to other positions, but who will get bumped remains to be seen. And this is only if the district does the right thing and applies the language that exists in the contract."
Seitz said Walsh is wrong.
"When the BOE approved the preliminary budget last week, we increased the proposed budget to provide the district and the board time to see if we can either get the paraprofessionals back in the budget or find a reasonable alternative solution," he told Patch.
At the Thursday gathering, Seitz announced that he is looking for ways to keep aides--who are paras--in the kindergarten classes.
"Kindergarten paraprofessionals are an essential part of our kindergarten program and I, along with many other people, would love to have them back in the classroom come September," he said.
The preliminary budget, including that extra funding to cover the cost of kindergarten aides, was approved by the school board by a 6-3 vote.
No votes came from members Susy Golderer, Gary Martin and Michael Strumolo.
Walsh said the NJEA hopes to organize the community in hopes that
residents will stand up to support the paras. And she said the district has an option it can take to keep paras in kindergarten classes.
"All the superintendent has to do is justify that they're educationally needed," she said. "No school district has lost state aid over something like this. They're not going to withhold funding over this. Even with the superintendent's salary increase they didn't withhold funding. And it's not as if they'll make it up with a health benefits package. Paraprofessionals do not get health benefits."
Under the terms of the fact finder's report, which the BOE approved by a 7-2 vote July 12, 2011, and that went into effect in September 2011, the paraprofessionals received three-year contracts that allowed teacher's aides and assistants 3 percent retroactive raises covering the school years 2007-08 and 2008-09, 2 percent raises for 2009-10, 2011-12 and 2012-13, and no raise at all in 2010-11.
In addition, paraprofessionals remain excluded from receiving health care benefits, despite their status as full-time employees.
The paraprofessionals, who went four years without a contract (the Parsippany-Troy Hills Educational Support Association, the union that represents school paraprofessionals, became an official bargaining unit after its founding in 2007) had approved the fact finder's report previously, even though it gave paras far less than they had hoped.
Pay levels for paraprofessionals range from $18,786 to $20,352 for the 2012-2013 school year.
Walsh said that the paras have not yet received the retroactive pay for 2007.
"No one has received their retro checks, even the people presently employed," she stated. "They're telling them it will come March 15, but that remains to be seen."
Walsh also accused the district of refusing to give retroactive pay to paras who, though part of the bargaining unit in 2007, have left district employment. She argued that they should be paid fully for the time they did work.
"If they were a bargaining-unit member for 2007, then they are entitled to compensation for 2007," she insisted. "If they left after that, then obviously, they aren't entitled to anything else. The district is challenging that. The mere fact that they haven't paid these people any of this retroactive money, despite the fact that the board agreed to this[last year] is absolutely ridiculous."
Meanwhile, Walsh said she is also representing school secretaries, for whom negotiations reportedly are underway. The union rep told Patch, however, that the parties have yet to sit down at the negotiating table.
"We've exchanged information, but we have not sat down with them yet," she said.
Walsh said the last time information was shared was in November and that the district has not chosen a date for the two sides to meet. She said she sent a letter to the district stating her "concern," but has not received a response or any suggested meeting dates.
Superintendent Seitz would not comment on these issues, he said, because of the confidential nature of union negotiations.