As another school year gets underway, report card time seems in the distant future. And while it is much too early to evaluate the students who will be in our care this year, the Paterson Education Association (PEA) believes it’s a perfect time to assess how the district is performing in the hopes of seeing some marked improvement as the year unfolds.
On the subject of staff retention, the District clearly needs improvement. Over 1,300 employees have resigned from the Paterson School District in the last three years, and the turnover has yet to abate. Though the Board of Education would like the community to believe that beginning the year with 10 percent of staff positions left unfilled is “about what was expected,” they fail to acknowledge the reasons—or take any measures to address them—to fully understand why hundreds of employees have left for employment elsewhere.
As I noted in my letter to the community in late June, these resignations strain the entire school system and the long-term success of the school district. Put simply, when these employees take their years of training, job experience, and vital skills to other school districts, our students receive the short end of the stick.
Moreover, these unfilled positions leave students to be shifted to other educators, increasing class sizes and leaving little opportunity for individualized instruction of students.
On the subject of staff salaries, the District frankly is unsatisfactory. Compared to their peers in similar districts, Paterson’s educators are woefully underpaid, and the Board appears uninterested in offering any settlements which would allow the District to offer competitive salaries to attract—and, most importantly, retain—quality teachers and support professionals to provide the best educational experience possible for Paterson’s children.
The facts speak for themselves: The teacher starting salary in Paterson is $57,500, while the average teacher salary is $77,305. However, when you look around at comparable districts, their starting salaries are over $60,000, and their average teacher salaries are (County – %79,702 OR well above $84,000 in districts such as Trenton, Union City, Elizabeth, and Passaic City). If these districts can offer competitive compensation for their educational staff, why can’t we?
Finally, the one area where the District is above average is the subject of questionable budgetary practices. The Board would like you to believe that our proposal to bring our salaries more aligned with county averages is unattainable or even outrageous. However, what’s outrageous is listening to the Board claim they don’t have the means to compensate its educators appropriately or to call our demands “unrealistic,” then watch them raise administrative salaries—ranging from $15,000 to just under $20,000—to “right size” salaries after examining what other Passaic County districts’ officials are making. This is in addition to paying our new technology director $170,000 and awarding a $200,000 contract for a formerly free program.
We believe it takes a village to help a child succeed. We also believe that it will take a village to help the District understand that for it to succeed, it must re-evaluate its priorities and take negotiations with the PEA seriously. The Board claims it wants to take care of its educators, but actions speak louder than words. We urge parents and community members to stand with us as we call for a board willing to do more than just talk the talk.
John McEntee, Jr., President
Paterson Education Association