Hawthorne BOE Reverses Decision on Paras

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Olivia Meier , Staff Writer

At the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, a decision was made to renew the contracts of the district’s paraprofessionals and reject the bids submitted by five private companies. The move to abandon outsourcing was made after the Hawthorne Teachers Association made the counter offer to save the district $400,000 by reducing health coverage for 46 full-time paras from full family coverage to single-person coverage.

For the past month, the Board’s intention to privatize the hiring of paraprofessionals, in order to close a gap in the 2014-15 budget, stirred much controversy among town parents and school staff.

The Hawthorne Press reported that outsourcing the paraprofessionals and reducing staff would have saved the district about $785,000, which was necessary due to medical insurance costs increasing $800,000 and salaries rising $500,000 next year.

Additional monies were also needed to allow the district to continue investing in the growth of educational programs. These include new books to support K-2 reading and writing, social studies textbooks, professional development with the Capri Institute and Lincoln Tech, and new high school courses in physics, economics, and world history.   “We’re trying to put taxpayer money toward the needs of the students,” said Jill Mortimer, Superintendent of Schools, in an interview with Minjae Park, staff writer for northjersey.com.

During a packed Board of Education meeting on April 15, about 30 parents spoke about their concerns. Many worried that the replacements, who would be paid significantly less than the current paraprofessionals and would receive fewer benefits, would not be as qualified or committed as the previous employees. Johanna Burke, who has an 11-year-old son with autism, spoke about her concerns. “[The special education students] need consistency. They need to have the same person coming in. And if you start privatizing and bringing in strangers is going to lead to regression for these kids.”

The decision to renew the contracts of the full-time paraprofessionals was met with cheers and applause from the overflow crowd at Tuesday’s BOE meeting. The Board’s finance committee will now begin the job of resolving the remaining budget issues.