By ERIN ROLL
Montclair’s paraprofessionals are contending an across-the-board pay rate for summer work has created lower wages for some teachers who work during the extended school year.
District officials claim however, that some paraprofessionals saw a pay increase under the $21-per-hour flat rate for the summer session instituted two years ago.
In 2017, Superintendent Kendra Johnson said the district was going over budget in the extended school year program. Prior, paraprofessionals made the same as they made during the school year of $17 to $29 an hour, which is based on level of education and years of service in the district. The $21 flat pay rate for paraprofessionals went into effect in 2017 summer extended school year program, according to district documents.
The move was communicated to the teachers’ union, and mentioned in the job application.
Johnson concedes that the across-the-board pay rate resulted in a pay cut for some paraprofessionals, but others saw a pay increase from regular session to summer session. Longtime paraprofessional Jim Zarruli said the flat pay rate is a hardship for the paraprofessionals and that the BOE had no good reason for creating it.
“You did it because you could,” he said during the July 15 Board of Education meeting. “All we are asking is for the same rate in July that we get the rest of the year.”
During the extended school year paraprofessionals provide teaching services and other school-related services, such as physical and occupational therapy, to special needs students.
“The [summer] flat rate started two years ago because the program was significantly over budget year after year,” Johnson said.
A paraprofessional who normally makes $17 per hour during the school year would see a 24 percent pay increase. For a paraprofessional who normally makes $29 per hour however,would see a 25 percent decrease in pay.
But some of the paraprofessionals who spoke at the July 15 BOE meeting about the issue contend the pay cut from school year rate to summer rate was closer to 30 percent.
“Does any district employee earn 30 percent less in the summer? Why do the paras?” asked Tom Manos, the vice chair of the Montclair Education Association to BOE at the July 15 meeting.
“Currently, we are working collaboratively with Montclair Education Association on a resolution. We absolutely value our paraprofessionals and the decision two years ago was solely influenced by fiscal constraints,” Johnson said.
The pay rate for certain other district staff involved in the extended year program, such as teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists and job coaches, is higher, from $49 to $65 per hour during the summer.
Some of the audience members at the July 15 BOE meeting spoke out on behalf of the paras as well.
“The paras have been through too much at the hands of various iterations of leadership in this district,” said former Councilwoman Katherine Weller-Demming.
Paraprofessionals’ current rate during the school year is $17 to $29 an hour.