Over 150 secretaries, professional assistants, teachers, Bergen County NAACP branch members and community members came to Dwight Morrow High School on June 28 to protest the Englewood board of education’s move to fire the district’s secretaries and paraprofessionals and replace them with low-paid outside employees.
The group marched from the high school to John Grieco School, where a board of education meeting was being held later that evening. They marched to demand that the board listen to the community and respond to its concerns, because something this important should not be passed without community involvement and support. This move would affect more than 90 district employees, many of whom live in Englewood.
Concern about the board’s direction and lack of communication has been building for some time. On June 7, the board voted to negotiate with two firms that would provide the replacement employees. The firms selected claim they can offer significant savings to the district and help to close what the board claims is a $4 million budget gap for 2013-14. However, the district’s budget is actually already balanced for the coming school year, and the board has been unable to substantiate its claim of a large deficit for the following year. Further, many districts which have fired their own employees and turned to outside contractors have discovered that the promised savings never materialized.
During public comments at the board meeting, many people urged the board to reconsider. Speakers reminded board members of the vitally important roles these employees play in the day to day operations of the schools and countered their claims of a financial crisis.
Anita Shemesh, President of the Englewood Teachers Association, pointed out the disparity between the board’s actions and their words, citing budgeting below cap for the past two years and including 31 new hires in next year’s budget.
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian stressed that relationships cannot simply be replaced. Secretaries are the faces of the schools, and the professional assistants build trusting relationships with their students.
“If you downgrade and degrade their professional status, you downgrade and degrade this district” said Keshishian. “You have better options available to you. You do not have to hurt this district and hurt your students. I urge you to get creative. I urge you to put children first.”
The locals are continuing to organize against the board’s plan, and gathering additional information to demonstrate how unnecessary and damaging it would be.