Para jobs saved in Franklin Township

Published on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

 Lorrie Mountainland
FTEA President Lorrie Mountainland tells the board the privatizing the district’s paraprofessionals would cause irreparable harm.
As the clock struck 10 p.m. on March 14, Franklin Township Education Association’s (FTEA) paraprofessionals were still listening to the Franklin Township Board of Education debate their fate. For the second time in as many years, the board was considering privatization the 109 members, many of whom are one-on-one aides for the district’s neediest students.

Just the week before, the Somerset County local had learned the board’s intention to fire them. The district’s proposed 2013-14 school budget had eliminated the paraprofessionals’ salaries and benefits. To make matters worse, FTEA and Franklin Township Board of Education recently settled a three-year contract leaving the staff with a sense of betrayal.

FTEA leads community outcry

In response to the outcry, Franklin Township Superintendent Edward Seto withdrew his recommendation to outsource these positions, but the final decision rested on the board that night. In a show of solidarity, hundreds of FTEA members along with dozens of community residents and parents attended the board meeting to express their frustration at being blindsided.

FTEA President Lorri Mountainland urged the board to approve the superintendent’s recommendation to restore the paraprofessionals’ salary and benefits.

“You may recall when I last spoke, I indicated that privatizing the paraprofessionals would cause irreparable harm to the relationship between the FTEA, administration, and board of education,” Mountainland said. “Your action tonight would be a tremendous step in the right direction as it restores the trust and mutual respect that serves as the foundation between us.”

Over 20 FTEA members and residents addressed the board in support of the district’s paraprofessionals including special education teacher Kearstin Meyer.

"When I say that administrators are our leaders, I am speaking of teachers, not students; because it is teachers and paras who lead our students,” Meyer said. “We are the ones who know our students in and out. We are the ones that take home all of the emotional baggage that each student brings through our classroom doors each day. We are the ones educating them so that they can reach their very highest potential. We are the ones who love and care for them and would do absolutely anything for them.”

After extending the public session and hearing over an hour and a half of public comment the board considered a motion to “direct the Superintendent to remove privatization of the paraprofessionals from 2013-2014 budget.”

By a 4-3 vote, the board approved the motion, saving the paraprofessionals’ jobs for the coming year. One board member abstained.

S-1191 protects support staff during contract

Members of the FTEA were initially blindsided by the board’s earlier plan to privatize their paraprofessionals because they were in the first year of their three-year contract. Unfortunately, the existence of collective bargaining agreement does not, by itself, ensure that a school board cannot take action to fire its entire staff and replace it with subcontracted workers.

A bill pending in the Assembly Education Committee, A-3627, would prohibit school boards from subcontracting employee jobs during the term of an existing contract. The bill would also require school districts to provide employees with at least 90 days’ notice of any effort to subcontract jobs and bargain with employees over the impact of subcontracting.

Its Senate companion, S-1191, was passed by a vote of 22 to 15. Learn more

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