Members of the public implored Montclair BOE members not to cut paraprofessionals in the coming year’s budget as a response to a . The public comment took place Wednesday night after Superintendent Kendra Johnson confirmed the board’s plan to cut 10 part-time paraprofessionals to save $300,000.
Johnson announced that the board will present the final budget at the regularly scheduled BOE meeting on Monday March 11, but that there were no changes currently being made to the administrative recommendations. However, she added that the district had yet to receive its 2019/2020 state aid allocation.
“Once we do, I will revisit our administrative recommendations and that will be presented on Monday’s meeting,” Johnson said.
Moving To A Shared Model
She also emphasized that with regard to the reduction of 10 paraprofessionals that IEP teams met prior to the budget season and identified students that would be moved from a one-to-one model to a shared paraprofessional model.
“We would never unilaterally change students’ IEPs in response,” Johnson said, adding that for students who still require that type of service, it will remain intact. “These young people will continue to receive paraprofessional services but the model per the IEP team for these young people has shifted from a one-to-one to a shared model.”
Johnson announced that the district just finished a state review for least restrictive environment and had met the state standard. The standard focuses on districts’ compliance with having students with disabilities attend the school in their neighborhood, inclusion and adherence to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Johnson also announced that the district has incorporated the Amistad curriculum, which incorporates African-Americans history into their social students curriculum, as well as other classrooms. She added that the district’s ongoing dance program would remain intact for the high school, middle school and elementary schools within the district.
Concerns About Impact on Students
Kathy Molloy, a leadership committee member of Special Education Parents Advocacy Council (SEPAC), warned how the proposed cuts to the paraprofessionals would impact students. She said she was concerned that the current shared paraprofessionals in the district were already overloaded and questioned how the students with special needs would be regrouped. She also said when one-to-one paraprofessionals are cut, current shared paraprofessionals and teachers take on more.
“No one could adequately support four students with IEPs,” she said, of her experience with a four-to-one paraprofessional. “There’s one student who really needs a lot of attention and another student who stares out the window.”
Molloy also said she realized the district had a budget to cut and felt it was being balanced on the backs of special education students.
“We are asking you to take on the impossible,” she added. “I think people in Montclair want to be proud that we do inclusion well, but I’ve seen this slip away over the last seven years since I’ve been in the district. We can pat ourselves on the back because we’re including our special ed students in gym but we have to do a better job at inclusion. I think all students can be educated together. Inclusion benefits all students in Montclair.”
MFEE Wins Award
Rochelle Wilson, board president of Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE), announced the “Public Proud” annual appeal exceeded their fundraising goal of $85,000, with a record number of participants, including educators and administrators supporting the initiative.
“When gifted educators support the work that we’re doing, it means even more,” she said. She also highlighted that the talent show “Showdown Montclair” received an award for outstanding achievement in fundraising from the New Jersey Educational Foundation Partnership. According to Wilson, the event grossed more than $60,000 in its first year and engaged over a thousand members of the Montclair community.
BOE members also honored Jaala Williams, a Montclair High School senior, who placed second at the state level in her weight level. Williams received a silver medal at the NJSIAA Wrestling Championships recently held in Atlantic City.