UNION, N.J. — Parents, grandparents and residents complained at the Oct. 15 school board meeting that the board’s August agreement with the teachers union reversing its spring decision to outsource paraprofessionals has left the district short of the aides needed to assist with special needs students.
“Over 60 percent of the paras lost their benefits,” resident Jeffrey Monge said referring to health insurance. “We started this school year with not enough paras. A lot of IEPs, we’re hearing, have not been followed, because you don’t have enough hours,” he continued.
IEP is the acronym for the “individual education plans,” devised for special needs students. “But we want to say, ‘hey, we’re on budget, last week.’ Yeah, because you’re saving money off of the paras,” Monge said.
The Union Board of Education in April, as part of its budget discussions, voted to hire an outside staffing agency to provide paraprofessionals to the district. The deal did not affect those who had been employed for more than six years, but would have required 91 employees with less than six years to seek employment through a staffing agency.
That prompted a summerlong grassroots campaign to overturn the decision, including demonstrations and pleas at a summer BOE meeting, as well as “Save the Paras” lawn signs and T-shirts.
On Aug. 20, the board emerged from a two-hour closed executive session announcing that it had reached an agreement with the Union Township Education Association that enabled paraprofessionals with four years or more of employment with the district to continue as previously employed.
Those with four years or fewer, under the agreement, would have to work 29.75 hours or more per week to retain their district-provided health insurance.
“I have a friend that I went to school with that was a para,” resident Guy Francis told the board at the Oct. 15 meeting. “And she recently is looking for another job because she didn’t make the cut in terms of the number of years. So she was going to lose her benefits. So, she decided that working as a para isn’t the best.
“But, what she liked the most was the benefits because that’s what she really needed. And, even though she didn’t get paid a lot of money for being a para, what happened was, she loved her job. And that was more important to her, even though she wasn’t making a lot of money,” Francis added. “The administration had offered the UTEA single-coverage for all paras.
“None of the paras would have lost their jobs — they would have had the benefits — and anybody that would have had the family plan would have to buy up, and that would have truly saved the paras.”
None of the board members addressed the issue or responded to the members of the public who spoke about it at the meeting.
Union BOE President Nancy Minneci, Vice President Ronnie McDowell and assistant business administrator Manuel Vieira did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls from LocalSource seeking comment on the paraprofessional issue during the two-week period after the meeting.