[Editorial] Lessons Learned?

[Editorial] Lessons Learned?thumbnail
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Published: June 11, 2010 @ 12:00 PM EDT

April 20, 2010

On the evening of April 20th, a handful of people were waiting for word on the school budget. A little after 9:30 p.m., school superintendent Patrick Spagnoletti entered council chambers after leaving the Borough Clerk’s office and made an announcement, “As of this moment, the budget has passed by three votes. There are still some absentee ballots to be tallied.”

The mood was cautiously optimistic as board members, write-in candidates, and interested residents discussed the closeness of the election. 45 minutes later, the final word came – the budget was defeated by three (3) votes.

April 27, 2010

The Board Of Education (BOE) held its re-organization meeting where it administered the oath to the three (3) elected members: Loren Harms, Scott Nelson, and Jeff Parrell. After being on the BOE for a little under a year, Dr. Parrell finally won a seat as a member, having filled the unexpired term of Judi Laganga, who resigned in 2009. Former councilman Loren Harms won a seat on the board, being the only other declared candidate during the election. Scott Nelson, having the most write-in votes (116) was also sworn in. It is also during this meeting that a recurring issue came up – that of three (3) BOE members not being able to vote due to having family members working in the schools. The Roselle Park Administrators’ Association (RPAA) had negotiated their contract with the BOE – a contract which included a salary freeze for the current school year. During the vote members Loren Harms, Scott Nelson, and Michael Genovese abstained from voting, citing that they did not have an opportunity to read the contract. This left the remaining six (6) board members but the contract could not be voted on due to the fact that there would be no majority since three (3) of them (Ken Iachio, Barney Leinberger, and Rosann Rinaldi) could not vote on the matter since they had relatives who worked within the school district. The matter was tabled until the next meeting when the three (3) abstaining member could have an opportunity to review the contract and vote on it, thereby having a majority.

May 11, 2010

A recount for the school budget was petitioned and an order was filed with the court by attorney Thomas Murphy for his plaintiffs: Eugene Artuso, John Artuso, Linda Artuso, Jane Fuzo, Victor Fuzo, Kimberly Guercio, Richard Guercio, Susan Guercio, Jamie Harms, Robert Harms, and Kimberly Jeronimo. After the recount, the results remained unchanged with the budget being defeated 873 to 870.

May 13, 2010

Mayor & council scheduled a joint meeting with the Board Of Education to pass resolutions regarding the school budget. That morning, the BOE announced that they knew there would be no quorum that evening so they did not attend the meeting. At 6 p.m., council immediately went into closed session to have final discussions before passing their resolution on recommendations for the budget. For two-and-a-half hours, residents waited in council chambers as the mayor came down three (3) times asking if there were any BOE members in attendance; only Loren Harms was in attendance and he left to attend a National Honors Society meeting (he did return later that evening). BOE President Ken Iachio did arrive to the meeting and spoke, although it was after mayor & council had voted on the resolution.

At around 8:30 p.m. council went into open session and passed a resolution lowering the school budget by an initial amount of $179,000, with $155,000 being reduced in unemployment compensation line items and $24,000 in administrative salaries. That initial reduction was then used to recommend that the BOE hire back two (2) full-time and one (1) part-time employee. The net reduction after allocating funds was $29,000. Council also recommended that the Roselle Park Education Association (RPEA) allow their membership to vote on a wage freeze to reduce the impact to the Borough even more.

So, in short, a ‘no’ vote for the school budget gave money back to residents AND got three (3) teaching positions back – a different result than predicted by some who offered nightmarish scenarios of further cuts for program and positions if the budget was voted down.

May 18, 2010

The BOE had its regularly scheduled meeting where the issue of the $24,000 in administrative salaries was brought up in connection with the salary increase of the Business Administrator, Sue Guercio. At a meeting with Mrs. Guercio on March 26, 2010, she mentioned that both herself and the superintendent would both take a salary freeze – which based on the budget that was submitted to the state was $10,000 for the Superintendent (6.24% salary increase) and $9,999 for the Business Administrator (a 7.65% salary increase); a combined total of $19,999. At the March 30, 2010 BOE budget presentation held in the Roselle Park High School auditorium, it was mentioned that the superintendent would be taking a $10,000 salary freeze. At that time there was no mention made of the Business Administrator’s salary freeze. At the BOE meeting, agenda item 22  discussed the recommended reductions from mayor & council which were agreed to by the BOE. Under the itemized listing, there is one (1) amount for $10,000 designated to the superintendent’s salary but no other amount equally the $10,000 salary freeze for the Business Administrator. The only other amounts which could be attributed to that position were $9,000 (Administrator’s Salaries) and $5,000 (Salaries Business Office). When asked if the Business Administrator would be taking a 0% salary increase, the BOE attorney stated that was the case, although the $9,999 amount could not be attributed at the time.

June 8, 2010

In corresponding with the superintendent, it was asked if there have been any talks, negotiations, or sidebar discussions with the RPEA in order to either lessen the salary increase or freeze the increase in order to bring back teachers. The superintendent stated that yes, there have been, but both sides haven’t approved them yet, so he could not comment at that time but that once they are ratified, he could share them.

Also, with a change of insurance carriers, the question was asked as to what cost change associated was with switching insurance carriers. The superintendent stated that regardless of whether there was a switch, health benefits would increase. It was a question of which carrier would increase premiums the least. He stated that Horizon, the carrier the school district will be with as of July 1, proposed an increase that was $138,000 less than Oxford’s proposed increase but that it is still more than double the increase that was budgeted.

Since the BOE accepted the recommendation to re-hire three (3) teachers,the number of those positions (55) to be removed was asked to be re-confirmed. Mr. Spagnoletti stated that, not counting paraprofessionals, the number of people who were laid off has decreased, due to retirements. A cursory review of those who put in their retirement papers after the budget was submitted and voted down reveals a total of at least nine (9) people. This should free up some funds and perhaps be utilized to re-hire teachers.

When asked if there was a list of personnel who were hired back from the recommendation from mayor & council, the superintendent stated that they will be approved at the upcoming June 15th agenda. (Sources have stated that the three people being re-hired are Tina Jones, Denise Matarante, and Katherine Parsons.)

A question was asked regarding the laying off of 13 paraprofessionals. A reason mentioned for the decision on whose annual contract was not going to be renewed was based on those paraprofessionals with insurance or who had family members who were insured by the BOE; that those paraprofessionals were let go while other who did not have insurance had their contracts renewed. Mr. Spagnoletti confirmed that some paraprofessionals were not re-hired. He confirmed that 13 paraprofessional positions were eliminated throughout the district based on students’ Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). He wanted to clarify that with regard to who stayed and who didn’t, personal qualifications were considered, as well as how well the students needs matched up against those qualifications. He wanted to make it clear that it had nothing to do with insurance.

This final point brought up questions since there is at least one (1) paraprofessional who was not a one-to-one aide but a class aide. Additionally, a review of five (5) para-professionals who were not re-hired at Robert Gordon school revealed that all but one had the family insurance plan.

With respect to IEP and para-professionals, it should be noted that if IEP’s were used in the decision-making, they generally apply to individual (one-on-one) paraprofessionals, yet some of the para-professionals who were not re-appointed were in a classroom environment that continue annually as an In-Class Assistant (ICA). It has been reported that, in general, ICAs are not determined by IEP’s.

There is an additional discussion point regarding insurance in the case where both spouses are school district employees or where both parent & child are school district employees and the child is under 30 years of age and living at home. It has been mentioned that if one of them takes the insurance, the other get compensated for not taking it.

June 9, 2010

In a follow-up correspondence the question was posed  that if there were those who retired, how would that money go back into the budget. The superintendent responded by stating that this year, money is needed to pay for unused sick days, which was not budgeted since the school district did not know certain personnel were retiring.

Additionally, an inquiry was made about how will the money that was allotted to the recently laid off  paraprofessionals going to go back into the budget. Mr. Spagnoletti stated that the BOE reserve that money since they will undoubtedly have to hire additional paraprofessionals during the year.

June 11, 2010

The agenda for the June 15, 2010 BOE meeting were released on the Board Of Education website (link). The agenda confirms that the three people being re-hired because of town council restoration are Tina Jones, Denise Matarante, and Katherine Parsons (Agenda Item 5). A unnamed source stated that Katherine Parsons is not being hired back to her position but is taking over for Ms. Deborah Hallard, who is retiring (Agenda Item 2). A research of the 2009-2010 school year through Data Universe (link) shows that Katherine Parsons was a teacher at Robert Gordon School, not a kindergarten teacher for Sherman School.  If this is the case, then the people being re-hired through town council recommendation comes out to 1.5, not 2.5 as stated at the May 13th special meeting which would mean that the $60,137 paid to Ms. Parsons should still be available for another teacher to be re-hired.

Also under Agenda Item 5, only one (1) teacher, Michelle Ruggiero, was re-appointed due to RPEA addendum, which is the re-negotiated agreement between the BOE and the RPEA in Agenda Item 39. Unless shown in another agenda item, it appears that renegotiation resulted in just one (1) teacher being hired back.

June 13, 2010

With all the information, there are still questions that need to be addressed, such as:

  • How many teachers will be hired back due to negotiations between the BOE and the RPEA?
  • When was the RPAA contract signed? (There is no public copy of a signed agreement)
  • Why were BOE members absent from an announced joint meeting on May 13, 2010? If there was no quorum, could BOE members who were available have attended the meeting as private residents?
  • What is the salary freeze agreed to by the Business Administrator?
  • Why were paraprofessionals laid off and, if they were based on IEPs, why will that money be on reserve for the possible hiring of additional paraprofessionals?
  • Was the situation agreed to by the BOE and RPEA during negotiations that if both spouses are school district employees or if both a parent & child are school district employees and the child is under 30 years of age and living at home, that if one of them takes the insurance, the other get compensated for not taking it?
  • Who will be asked to fill Mrs. Nancy Kinloch’s unexpired term since she will be moving out of Roselle Park in June 2010?

These questions, as well as others, are of importance if anything is to be learned for the future. But perhaps the most important question is, “Are decisions being made now taking into account the impact they will have for coming years and for all those who will be affected, especially the students?”