VERNON — The New Jersey Education Association has filed six grievances against the Vernon Township School District in the last year over practices inside the special education department.
Current and former teachers in the Special Education Dept. have alleged bullying by the Director of Special Education Carolyn Marano.
The grievances involve employees still working for the district.
Marano oversees a department that includes speech therapists, occupational therapists, reading specialists, psychologists, behavior analysts and other personnel. She was hired in 2013 at a salary of $130,000.
John Ropars, a union representative, said seven employees in the Special Services Dept. have resigned from the district over the past year and a half as a result of “abusive treatment” by Marano.
Vernon Interim Superintendent Charles Maranzano, speaking alongside Marano by phone on Tuesday, denied the charges. He called the grievances “frivolous.”
He said while Marano has “ruffled some feathers here,” he isn't bothered by the exodus of seven employees in a department of less than 20.
“It provides us with the opportunity to bring in fresh blood,” Maranzano said.
While he and Marano declined to address specific charges of bullying, Maranzano defended practices used in the Special Education Dept. to improve outcomes for students.
“We've taken some very aggressive actions,” Maranzano said.
He said that included transferring specialists to different schools where Marano thought they would be more effective.
Ropars said employees were transferred without explanation and approved by Maranzano. He said some employees had been in certain schools for a long time and were transferred over the objection of building administrators.
“For people to give up those jobs, you have to wonder what their reasoning is,” Ropars said. Ropars said it was unusual for such a large number of school employees to voluntarily resign jobs with good pay and benefits.
Ropars met with Maranzano last year after four employees in the department resigned. In the last five months, three more have resigned.
“These are people who are in highly skilled and in-demand positions,” Ropars said. “These are jobs other schools will be looking to fill pretty quickly.”
Ropars alleged the district has spent more on hiring outside special education specialists to work in the district under Marano.
Maranzano said the district's overall spending on outside vendors has decreased over the past year. He also said the district has “had some problems coming into compliance” and said the Special Services Dept. was previously run by non-specialists.
Marano said she has added special education teachers into more classrooms to work jointly with teachers as part of a new program to aid autistic students.
Last year, the Cedar Primary School missed progress targets made by the state.
“We are far away from being in full compliance,” Maranzano said.
The main issue, Maranzano said, was the lack of data in the individualized education plans written in the Special Services Dept.
Last month, several parents attended a board meeting to discuss their concerns with the state of the department.
There have been allegations that employees are overworked with more cases than they can handle.
There was disagreement on the board as how to handle a discussion on special education.
“You always have parents that have concerns about special education,” Maranzano said.
He believes parents may be confusing their concerns over the personnel with special education services.
“To them, it's a person,” Maranzano said.
“We need to separate the services from the personalities,” he said.
Maranzano said he believes that some current and former employees in the department were “entrenched” in “doing things the old way.”
Some of those who left wanted “to operate in the old paradigm. That's fine. That doesn't bother me,” he said.
“Maybe it's time some people do leave the district,” Maranzano said.
The board is set to meet again on Feb. 12 in a work session.