BOE Votes to Replace Some Contract Workers Despite Their Emotional Pleas
Don't "give up on us. We would never give up on your kids," a worker pleads.
The vote triggered an emotional outpouring from a near-capacity crowd during a board meeting in the high school library. People on both sides of the issue spoke passionately.
Board members and school officials said they were taking the action because excessive absences by the therapists has affected the quality of service to district special-needs students. They also said outsourcing the therapists in a contract with Bancroft, a center for people with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injuries, could save the district $95,000. Board officials said they would vote on whether to go with Bancroft in an upcoming meeting either later this month or in June.
But Sharon Stokes, president of the Haddonfield Education Association, criticized the board not renewing the in-house therapists. The HEA represents all district teachers and some other school employees, including the behavioral therapists.
Just before the board voted to not renew the therapists, it approved a $150,000 commitment to contribute to the cost of replacing the surface of two high school athletic fields with artificial turf. Stokes criticized the move and asked if the savings from replacing the therapists would be used for the turf project. School officials said it would not.
One of the therapist who would not be renewed pleaded with the board to “not to give up on us. We would never give up on your kids.”
“The issue of the administrative difficulties with absences were not unknown," Board President Steve Weinstein responded. "Those who would normally be involved in the process of addressing things were. The problem is not new.”
A parent in the audience agreed that the consistency of services was a priority for his family.
“I agree that the attendance is not a new issue. But I would request that a solution be looked at more closely,” said Colin Lessard. “I will live with what the board decides.”
Current district therapists will be offered an opportunity to apply for positions with Bancroft, school officials said.
Despite the board's vote to help fund the resurfacing of the athletic fields, including the football stadium on its Kings Highway East campus, the matter appears to be far from settled. A group of private borough residents have already raised $250,000 for the effort and plan to raise another $250,000. The residents and school officials are planning to ask the borough to kick in $354,000 toward the $1 million cost for the project.
Another issue that might raise eyebrows is an ongoing negotiation the school board and the borough are having with Bancroft to buy its 18.7-acre campus adjacent to the high school. The negotiation has been taking place behind closed doors for nearly two months. Borough and school officials have only discussed the negotiations in executive sessions at public meetings. Executive sessions are closed to the public.
The plan to resurface the high school fields was part of a $16.86-million public referendum plan to purchase Bancroft for current and future school use and open space. That referendum could be held this fall.
The borough estimated a public purchase could cost up to $19.52 million, with $14.27 million in financing.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the behavioral therapists whose contracts were not renewed were not represented by the Haddonfield Education Association.