By ERIN ROLL
After another error led to Montclair teachers not receiving their pay the morning of Oct. 15, teachers took to the streets and rallied outside Board of Education offices on Valley Road. Tuesday’s payroll mistake was the third since the start of school that has affected teachers’ paychecks.
“Of course, given the situation we’ve had up to this point, it just adds pain to misery,” said Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker, who started with the district in August.
Although by mid-afternoon on Oct. 15 all direct deposits were restored, according to Parker, Montclair teachers, frustrated with still not being paid their full salaries since contracts were approved over the summer, gathered outside BOE offices.
“Honor our contract – we’re more than worth it,” “I’m paying for your mistakes,” “Teaching should not be a debt sentence,” and “What do we want? Our money! When do we want it? Now!,” read the signs that were carried by about 150 of the teachers.
Since the start of the school year, teachers have not received their full contracted pay for 2019-2020, but are instead being paid at the rates for 2017-2018, a situation that has led to financial hardship for many staffers, according to the Montclair Education Association.
The first paycheck of the year had an extra deduction for health benefits. The district printed new checks with the deducted amounts and distributed them on a late friday afternoon.
On the day of the rally, the direct deposit glitch added to the frustration of the teachers.
“This rally is much needed,” said Anthony Dalbo, a science teacher at Montclair High School. “This is built-up frustration over years and years of contract disputes.”
According to Parker, direct deposits were not authorized far enough in advance, and the banks being closed for the Columbus Day holiday could have complicated the issue. Because direct deposits are made through Automated Clearing House (ACH) deposits rather than wire transfers, direct deposits must be scheduled two or three days in advance, he said.
Later in the day, Parker sent a letter to parents and community members informing them of the direct deposit error and offering the district’s apologies.
“This event furthered a growing level of distrust due to a previous error in salaries for certain staff earlier this year. District-wide culture and climate should be a priority for any school district leader as it is paramount for me. Understandably, mistakes like these have a negative impact on the way we feel about where we work. It is important for our staff members to be able to rely on their employer,” he wrote.
Teachers have reported experiencing financial hardships due to the issues with salaries. At BOE meetings in September and October, teachers described not being able to make mortgages, rent and car payments, being turned down or flagged for loans, and covering children’s college tuitions and medical expenses.
Dalbo said the late direct deposits could have a rippling effect. “There’s people that have health payments, car payments that were due today,” he said, adding the pay problems have gone beyond a glitch, and are now negligence.
Drivers honked their horns in support of the teachers as they drove by. Representatives from the New Jersey Education Association attended the rally. Parents also showed their support.
“I just think they should pay our teachers so they can get back to the business of educating our little darlings,” said parent Donnell Major-Fawkes. She said she had heard teachers talking about the direct deposit delay in the morning.
“I think that I serve the best association in New Jersey, and I think we show that every single day,” said Montclair Education Association chair Petal Robertson. “They deserved to be paid this morning when they got up.”