BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Too many instructional aides are leaving the employ of the Bernards Township school district, a resident told the school board Monday night.

Jim Vopal, who offered his name to fill a board vacancy last year but wasn’t chosen by the board, blamed the reduction in the salary scale for the “mass exodus” of aides.

“We are losing highly qualified people and hurting students,” he said.

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Vopal, who is a teacher in New Providence, said that 34 instructional aides and two instructional support teachers won’t return for the school year that starts next week.

Assistant Superintendent Sean Siet said the district will be fully staffed with aides at school’s start. Six instructional aides (five for Cedar Hills School) were hired, while eight resignations (five at Mount Prospect School) had resignations accepted at Monday’s meeting.

Siet said, while a lower pay scale may be a factor, he believed most people were leaving to pursue other avenues in education, like fulltime teaching jobs. Aides are typically hired on a 10-month basis.

He said a 20 percent attrition rate, which would amount to 20 to 40 aides, was typical per year.

Superintendent Nicholas Markarian said after the meeting that aides’ salaries were addressed in last year’s new contract with the district teachers association. Aides’ pay was typically in the $24-$25 per hour range, he said. In 2015-16, the top step of a five-year guide paid aides at $28.24 per hour, he said.

Under the new contract, aides who were employed in June will see salaries frozen this school year, as well as 2018-19. New hires will receive $21 per hour under the new contract.

Aides who were paid at $21 per hour in 2016-17 will receive $21.25 per hour in this school year and $21.50 in 2018-19.

Most aides work in special education settings, Markarian said.

Siet said Bernards Township surveyed other districts and found pay scales for aides at $13.25 to $19. Markarian said the district’s research showed it had been paying one of the highest rates in the state.