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MEA's Position on Privatizing Our Extraordinary Assistants
There are many ways to deal with the financial crisis that the New Jersey schools are facing. One of the options that the Medford Board of Education has decided to explore to help with their finances is to hire a for profit company and privatize our assistants.
Our Medford public schools have earned the reputation of being one the best school systems in all of Burlington County. We are known for our high quality programs and the dedicated and caring staff who work in our schools. Among that staff are approximately 150 employees working as general classroom, special education, and transportation assistants. And, out of those 150, approximately 75% are Medford residents. They, along with the teachers, are the professionals who care for and nurture our children. Many of our assistants are your neighbors, your friends, and Medfords taxpayers. They are the volunteers who lead Medfords scouts, coach Medfords sports teams, take leadership roles in Medfords churches and fundraise for Medfords schools. They are respected and often revered community members.
These assistants are loyal employees who have given so much to our children over so many years. About 1/3 of them have college degrees. All of them have taken courses to improve their skills. Our assistants have attended workshops dealing with issues such as raising NJASK scores, working with children with autism, Aspergers and ADHD, bullying, suicide prevention, and child abuse. They do much of this on their own, unpaid time because they care about Medford and its students. We know that their wages are low and their real pay comes from the love, admiration and respect of colleagues, and their students and their parents. They accept this trade off because they deeply care.
If one takes the time to look at the salary of a special education assistant, with 10 years of experience in Medford, working 5.9 hours a day, with no health benefits, that yearly salary would be $15,877.00; clearly not exorbitant; some might even say pitiful.
And, if we look at health benefits, only 19 out of the 150 assistants receive any health benefits at all. This means that 87% of our assistants receive no health benefits at the Board or taxpayer expense. It is clear that our assistants certainly are not generously compensated through their benefits package either.
If the Board of Education brings in a for profit company, it will be about that companys profits, not about quality of education or our students. This district will never be the same again. We will never be able to turn back the clock and help our students who will unquestionably be the biggest losers.
We all know that a for profit company has only their profits and not our childrens education as their priority. If the Board decides to use a for profit, we know that our taxpayers will suffer. As the quality of our schools declines, so will our property values. We also know that our schools will suffer, as with privatization, the quality of the staff will decline. And most assuredly, we know that our children will suffer, as they will no longer be working with the well-trained, caring, devoted assistants they have learned to love, trust and respect.
I am hopeful the Board of Education will do the right thing, not just for our dedicated staff, but for Medfords taxpayers as well as her students. A possible savings of only approximately 1% of the school budget will cost Medford dearly. Lets keep the quality in our public schools, maintain our property values, and provide our children with the best, we all know they deserve it. Please, do not privatize our assistants.
Gail S. Weisberg, President