Budget Crisis Sparks District-Wide Protest


March 5th budget meeting in school library

Emma Cohen, Staff Writer

It’s no secret that the district is short two million dollars, as caused by budgeting issues. The administration at the Board of Education spent weeks creating a plan as to how best they could manage the enormous deficit. Part of the administration’s original plan to fix the budget was to cut the business department from the high school and privatize the district’s paraprofessionals. As can be expected, this plan was met with a loud objections from parents, students, and teachers hard-set against it.

Many students and parents were angry with the proposed cuts. In protest, two petitions were started on change.org: “Save the Tenafly High School Business Department,” created by the Tenafly High School student body with currently over 1,500 supporters, and “Tenafly Paraprofessionals Matter! Please help save these valuable employees,” created by a parent under the username, Ray Ray, with currently over 2,500 signatures. “I understand the position that the board is in. Some things are out of their control,” said Ms. Cutrone, vice president of the Tenafly Education Association and a social studies teacher at the school. “But I was upset to hear that the privatization of the paraprofessionals and the business department were on the table.”

The high school has a graduation requirement in which students have to take a business class. The Board of Education recommended students take the required class online instead of in a classroom at the school. “I think this class has always been required because it’s an important thing for life and something that you should definitely learn in high school,” said Katlin Arfmann (‘18). She expressed the sentiment that removing the business department was not a good idea because it was required and because many students can benefit from those classes.

At the second budget meeting held on March 5th in the high school library, two plans were proposed and indicated how they would vote. The administration proposed in both plans that instead of cutting the business department entirely, they would downsize by cutting one staff member. In the first plan, the paraprofessionals were to be outsourced. The total amount saved was projected to be $2,534,023. In the second, the paraprofessionals were to remain at the school for the following school year, with the total amount saved projected to be $1,534,023. The administration expressed that the second plan was a short-term solution, as it would only cut enough money from the budget to get the district by for another year. The privatization of the paraprofessionals will be back on the table in a year’s time if no other solutions are found.

Nearly all board members said they would vote for the second plan, with the exception of one member who voted for the first, and Sam Bruno. Bruno stated that he did not agree with either budget plan, and that the second plan was putting off the inevitable. He said that the board needed to come to a decision now, not in a year.

Many angry and passionate parents went up to speak at the meeting. They defended the paraprofessionals, stating that outsourcing them would only harm the students who benefit from their presence at the school every day. They argued that the paraprofessionals are the staff members who are in contact with students that need extra help on a daily basis. Students expressed similar feelings. “These are the people who care the most about the kids at Tenafly, and they want to cut them? I think that’s kind of ridiculous,” said Jessica Ranaldi (‘18).

These are the people who care the most about the kids at Tenafly, and they want to cut them? I think that’s kind of ridiculous.

— Jessica Ranaldi ('18)

Even though these staff members will have the opportunity to keep working at the school through a private company, doing so would mean that they would have smaller wages, little to no benefits, and no sick days. “Most paraprofessionals would probably look for a job in a district that didn’t privatize because you’re going to get a better salary and presumably health benefits,” said Cutrone.

Among those who went up to speak before the board was a student at the school. “The aides I have in my classes are really helpful to me. They have watched me grow and they know me, and I’m comfortable with my aides,” said Sarah Cardenas (’18). “The aides are kind. They are always smiling and caring, and the best thing is they are always there. That is why I support my aides.” Her speech left many in the audience in tears. “It’s scary for me to get up there and talk, and I’m a teacher. She stood up there and she spoke eloquently and expressed her feelings in a way that I think everyone understood,” said Cutrone. “And, to me, that’s the core of why para’s need to stay the way they are; because they work with our most vulnerable students and they build relationships that start when those students are in elementary school.”

People even came from other towns to talk about the unexpected repercussions that have come from outsourcing paraprofessionals. Two such people are the past president from the Glen Rock teacher’s union, and the current president of Ridgefield Park’s union. Both districts have privatized their paraprofessionals and are now facing the consequences of doing so. “Overall, I have yet to hear anything positive from any districts that have privatized,” said Cutrone.

For now, it seems that the business department is safe from being cut with the exception of one staff member. For the paraprofessionals, the district has a year to come up with an alternate solution, or this discussion will come back up again. Either way, it seems that the students and parents are ready to speak up and defend the paraprofessionals. “They’re like this safe haven that you could go to and just chill out,” said Ranaldi. No one knows what this next year will bring, but it seems that for now, the paraprofessionals are safe.