The chanting began as soon as the board members entered the room at 141 Park Street. “No outsourcing! No outsourcing!” the large crowd of Montclair Educational Association (MEA) members shouted while waving signs to protest the board’s decision to outsource the district’s aides.
The MEA, which had been largely absent from previous Board of Education (BoE) meetings, turned out in full force for the final budget meeting. Only one member, however, stood up to speak during the public comment portion of the evening, and after the rest of the commenters (three) took the mic, a majority of MEA members walked out of the meeting, shouting, “You should be ashamed.”
The exact nature of their frustration was unclear, but it appeared the members were upset by the short public comment session. Board President Shelly Lombard emphasized the board allows for all comments, but only four people had signed up to speak. They were all called.
The MEA members did not exit before listening to Board Vice President Leslie Larson’s prepared statement, which she read in response to union member Joyce Weeg’s question: “Why are you now cutting aides which will affect educational instruction?”
Larson said the choice to outsource the aides “seemed to be educationally sound” after stating how difficult the the decision-making process had been as a board member. She went on to note that many neighboring towns have already begun to outsource aides. She ended her statement by pointing out this recommendation had been discussed and available to the public since October. “Only in the last couple of weeks have we heard from the MEA.”
Indeed, last week the MEA presented the BoE with a proposal suggesting a flat tax of $131 (the amount of decrease on the school portion of residents’ tax bill in the current school budget). Weeg also recalled other cost cutting proposals the MEA made back in December to the Board, which hadn’t been fully considered.
Larson stressed the Board wished to continue working with the MEA and plans to issue them a counter proposal shortly. She hoped even after the adoption of the budget, the BoE could find opportunities to reallocate funds over the next couple of months.
So, a ray of hope still exists for aides, which is a good thing according to resident Ira Shore. “It’s a grave error to outsource our aides, a decision for which we will be paying for years to come. The people in the classroom are more important than technology, facilities and furniture. We should not balance our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable and least paid – those who work the hardest for the least amount of dollars.”
High School art teacher Stephanie Nagorka agreed, and was glad to hear the BoE and MEA were working together. “There has to be give and take on both sides,” she said.
Later in the evening during the public comment session on non-budget items a resident stood up to chastise the teachers who walked out mid-meeting, stating their behavior after not having attended all the meetings is “rude and unacceptable.”
Montclair teacher Joanne Dedovitch concurred. “I’m embarrassed about how my coworkers behaved.” She added, “It’s raw emotion coming out.”
But, perhaps the real issue of the night was raised by one Montclair resident who asked, “Why is $110M required to educate the children of Montclair?”
The question was left unanswered.