Amid concerns of setting precedent, the Mt. Ephraim Board of Education (BOE) rejected a motion last month that would have approved the hiring of a paraprofessional candidate at a higher salary/step.
Before the board voted during September’s BOE meeting, there was discussion between the BOE and the administration about why the starting salary for this particular candidate had been submitted for approval at a higher step.
A paraprofessional also questioned the approval and speculated if the hiring at the higher step would be cause for a grievance.
The BOE’s primary concern was that if the candidate were to be approved at Step 7, as opposed to Step 1, then that would set precedent. When it came time to vote on the motion, it did not pass.
However, the candidate’s name was back on the agenda a second time for approval during last week’s BOE meeting. Again, the matter was subject to a lengthy discussion.
School superintendent, Leslie Koller said, “I won’t put her (the candidate) before you again. I had no intention of putting her before you again, but when I left last month’s board meeting, we have had another resignation.”
She elaborated by saying that despite the position being advertised, there were no applications for it.
Principal, Mike Hunter, agreed with Koller and said: “We had zero applications.”
He stood before the BOE and said: “It’s not a very easy position to fill and it is a position that is not highly sought after.”
He spoke of the hours of work and conversation that had gone into the process. He added: “We pay $60 a day to the substitute. We pay the firm Insight $81.20. Do the math. $81.20 times 180 is pretty close to what we are going to pay the recommended salary.”
He asked the board to consider the thought process that goes into the recommendation and to not just look at the number.
“It’s about the quality of the person that we are hiring. Sometimes quality is important and it is of utmost important in this situation. We do our due diligence,” Hunter said.
He then stated that since the last board meeting, another paraprofessional had resigned.
“They (the paraprofessionals) are taking jobs with benefits that we don’t offer, which I am not suggesting that we offer. We can’t afford to offer them and I understand that. But that’s why they are leaving – for benefits,” Hunter said.
Board member, Deena Noonan, interjected by saying she was concerned about setting precedent and said, “Step 2 or 3 is a lot different than step 7.”
Hunter responded: “Between Step 7 and Step 1, is less than $2,000.”
Board member, Nick Salamone remarked that when Hunter addressed the BOE, it was the first time he had ever heard an administrator speak directly to the board, and although he had no objection to it, he stated, “I could very well think that your speech could influence the revote.”
Board president Joan Greenwood asked if the applicant was working in another district.
The superintendent replied by saying the person is a certified teacher and has been working in a different district.
The board solicitor, Patrick Carrigg, interrupted the discussion and stated, “This is not appropriate now. You can talk in general about placement on the steps, but to talk specifically about her would be inappropriate.”
When the matter was brought to a vote, the motion passed. Board members Mario Alibrando, Robbin Malinowski, Patricia Blaylock and Joan Greenwood voted yes.
Board member Diane Vilardo also voted yes, but said she did so “with reservation.”
Voting no were Deena Noonan and Nicholas Salamone. Board members Carl Ingram and Rocco Vespe were absent from the meeting.
In addition to addressing the Board about the paraprofessional position, Hunter also asked the BOE to “respect us because we do our jobs well and we hope that you continue to respect us.”
Referencing remarks that had been made during last month’s meeting. Hunter said: “Last month, a board member said to the large crowd, ‘Thank you for all coming. Continue coming. Let us know the problems and we’ll fix them’.”
Hunter went on: “I beg to differ. That’s not your responsibility. You’re to let us know that something is going on and we will report back to you. Please choose your words wisely when you are talking to the community about things that are going on in the school. Please choose your words wisely when you’re on the ballfields and people are in your ears, which I know happens. I’ve asked you before, please pass them on to us and we will definitely report back to you.”
He added, “In the eight years that I have been here and since Leslie has been here, the district has never has never been more transparent than it is now.”
The BOE will meet again on Monday, November 16 at 7:30 pm at the Mary Bray Media Center.