HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — School district staff asked the Board of Education on Tuesday to rethink its plan to balance the budget by laying off some employees and demoting others from full-time to part-time positions.
Staff members say the action — which will affect about 62 workers — will leave some without the health care benefits they need for their families.
“The majority of us work for benefits,” said Eileen O’Sullivan, a district paraprofessional. “We will be forced to leave the job we love.”
Others took aim at the cuts in state aid — more than
$2 million for the district — by Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt to balance the state budget.
“There’s a very negative feeling that teachers are overpaid,” district teacher Michelle Giordano said. “We know the truth here in Hamilton Township. Don’t use children as political pawns.”
District officials said many of the staff changes could be avoided if the district’s unions forego a pay raise. That money, combined with a 1.5 percent contribution toward health care costs, could be enough to prevent the layoffs and demotions, provided the Board of Education and the unions agree on that as the primary use for the money, they said.
But unless that happens, the district has little choice but to proceed with its current plans, Superintendent of Schools Michelle Cappelluti said.
“I have been a member of this community for 50 years,” she said. “I come from a background of people who are proud to be in education. There are certain things, many things, that are out of my control.”
As for other methods that could prevent the staff changes, Cappelluti said, “If you can think of a solution for that, I would like to hear it.”
More than 100 district workers and residents crowded the library of the William Davies Middle School on Tuesday for a hearing on the district’s proposed $44.9 million budget.
Along with the changes in staff, the district plans to cut sports and clubs for students in grades 6, 7 and 8. Three of the district’s seven general education preschool programs will be cut, and transportation will no longer be provided for youths enrolled in the program.
The proposed budget is down almost 5 percent from last year’s $47.1 million fiscal plan. The budget also will raise another $600,000 in school taxes, or $19.7 million in total.
Local residents will also see their school tax rate increase by 5 cents, to $1.50 per $100 of assessed value. The change will cost a property owner an additional $50 per year, based on a property assessed at $100,000.
The district and and its unions are currently involved in contract negotiations.
Hamilton Township Education Association President Diane Brunetti told the board that union members have already agreed on some changes — such as in health care — over the years to help control costs.
“Now you’re asking for more money,” she said.
Resident Greg Smith, who has two children attending local schools, said the Board of Education still has room to raise its budget before reaching the 4 percent spending cap imposed by the state. He asked the board to consider increasing the budget to help cover costs, and let residents decide on that fiscal plan when it is put before the voters April 20.
“I don’t feel you have the right to make that decision for me,” he said.
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