Union BOE, admin clash with teachers over paras

UNION, NJ — Superintendent of Schools Gregory Tatum called upon the local teachers union at the June 18 Board of Education meeting to assemble a counter proposal and “bring it to the table” regarding the outsourcing of 91 paraprofessionals in the district.
Administrators revealed at the April 30 BOE budget hearing that paraprofessionals with six years of employment or less with the school district would be hired through staffing companies starting in the next school year. There are currently 156 paraprofessionals in the district and the 91 affected received their nontenure notices May 15.

“The one thing I am going to say is that this is all nice. We’ve been coming out and talking about trying to save our paras and do the right thing, but at this stage in the game, the association has the right to come and make a counter proposal to the administration on how to resolve this issue and provide the same service that would be provided by an outside vendor,” Tatum said at the meeting after some members of the public called upon the board to “make a motion to reverse the privatization.”

Union Township Education Association President Ann-Margaret Shannon was one of those calling for the motion.
“We have yet to get any communications from the UTEA regarding the correspondence for them to come to the table and to talk about what their proposal happened to be. You’re asking us now to entertain a motion to move away from what we have originally proposed but, by the same token, you have a right to a counter proposal and I’m waiting. I’m waiting day by day by day,” Tatum said.

Shannon responded during the public comment portion of the meeting, stating that the teachers union has approached the administration with suggestions.

“There has been a lot of blame on the UTEA and I want to be clear that we are not to be blamed,” she said.
“As for the idea that we do not want to come to the table, that’s not true. We’ve already been there and made suggestions but those suggestions were rejected.”

Shannon went on to say that she doesn’t understand how outsourcing the paraprofessionals will save the district money.
Salaries and benefits for district paraprofessionals with one to six years of service come to $3.9 million, Tatum said during the April budget meeting.
Daily and long-term substitute teachers also will be subcontracted, and when the district has chosen a staffing service, current paraprofessionals also will have a chance to enroll in the program, Tatum said in April. He added that the district will be involved in the hiring process of all paraprofessionals when the service is selected.

At the almost four-hour meeting with standing room only, parents, staff and residents packed the high school media center, most opposing the outsourcing of the paraprofessionals.

Signs reading “Protect Our Union Paras” and “No Strangers in Township of Union Schools” were brought to the meeting.
Members from the statewide New Jersey Education Association were also present at the meeting. George Huk, a Union County field representative, was interrupted during his public comment time by the BOE attorney, who said Huk was addressing an item not on the agenda.

Regular protocol provides for two public comment portions for meetings, the first of which is reserved for discussion of agenda items only, while the second public is open for any district issue.

“I’m here to talk about the fiasco that your district has perpetuated with resolution No. O-7, so please allow me to continue,” Huk said, drawing applause from the gallery.
On the meeting agenda was a resolution to reject bids for paraprofessional services received June 11 because the board “wants to revise the specifications for the services.” The resolution to reject the bids passed unanimously.

Huk criticized Gregory Brenna, the district’s business administrator, for his work on the district’s budget during the past five years and referred to the district’s budgeting as a fiasco, saying it is the district’s “collective fault” that it’s in its current state.

Paraprofessionals and teachers voiced their concerns regarding what will happen at the start of the new school year.
Kelly Osborne, a paraprofessional and teachers union building representative at Battle Hill Elementary School, said the class she works in has been referred to as a “well-oiled machine” but that three out of the four paraprofessionals will be affected by the outsourcing so she isn’t sure what is going to happen to that machine.

“That machine is grinding to a halt,” she said. “Those children will still require that care every single day, and I will be there to provide the best care possible. But I’ll tell you what, I can only do so much as one person.”

Osborne also asked if the agency, once it is selected, will provide training for paraprofessionals.
“The people in my classroom, they are not waiting, they have left,” she said.