REGIONAL- Paraprofessionals, aides, and assistants in ISD 2142 will have their hours cut back and most will lose the option of health care benefits after the district school board took action, …
REGIONAL- Paraprofessionals, aides, and assistants in ISD 2142 will have their hours cut back and most will lose the option of health care benefits after the district school board took action, Tuesday, that district officials say is intended to make the district more competitive with other districts in hiring and retention for those positions.
The board, with Chris Koivisto voting against the proposal, approved Superintendent Reggie Engebritson’s recommendation to change the work week for these positions from 31.5 hours to 26 hours. A July 14 letter from Engebritson sent to affected employees indicated that they would be cut to 24 hours a week, and both she and board members reportedly received numerous emails prior to the meeting raising questions and concerns about the cutbacks.
A companion piece to the plan, an hourly wage increase, is found in the proposed negotiated agreement with Teamsters General Local 346, which represents 109 paraprofessional, aide, and assistant positions. Approval of the agreement was on the board agenda Monday afternoon, but it was removed from an updated agenda by the time the board met that evening.
Teamsters representative Les Kundo said union members haven’t had the chance to review and vote on the revised agreement, which raises the base wage for a Level 1 certified paraprofessional from $13.45 to $16.03 for 2020-21, and to $16.35 in 2021-22. Similar raises are proposed for teaching and library assistants, but Level 1 teacher aides and in-school suspension monitors would receive only a 31-cent hourly increase this year, according to the draft proposal sent out with the board agenda.
Kundo said that informational sessions will be held at district schools in early August. The union will not make a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ recommendation on the proposal, Kundo said, allowing members to decide their votes independently. Kundo also said a strike vote would be taken at the same time, but said he had no knowledge of how members might vote.
Based on the 109 covered positions, the cutbacks amount to 599.5 fewer hours worked each week, and Engebritson readily acknowledged the district would need to hire additional staff to maintain the educational supports those positions provide. The proposed wage increase should offset the loss of hours for current staff and make it easier to hire new ones, she said.
“We’re not worried that we’re going to lose people,” she said. “We think we’re going to gain people.”
Engebritson emphasized that with a revised schedule of working Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, staff in affected classifications would have opportunities for additional income by working as substitutes on Wednesdays through Teachers on Call.
However, with the reduction in hours, employees in these positions who were hired after 1999 will no longer be able to buy into the district’s health insurance plan. Engebritson said that 14 employees who currently participate in the district’s health plan will be maintained on it through December in order for them to find other insurance coverage. Dental and life insurance options don’t change in the proposed agreement.
Koivisto noted that while pay raises are pending, those who contacted him were concerned.
“The perception is out there that they’re getting cut,” he said.
Koivisto expressed concern about making the cutbacks when the district still doesn’t know what model of education they will be using when school starts in September. Gov. Tim Walz and Department of Education officials are expected to announce Thursday what learning model – be it distance learning, in-school learning, or a hybrid of the two – will be allowed this school year.
“I’m going to have a hard time voting yes on this, particularly when we don’t know,” Koivisto said.
Board member Christine Taylor countered by saying that the board makes decisions “all the time about people’s pay and benefits, and then circumstances change.”
In other businesss, the board:
• Approved a standard resolution setting board elections for Nov. 3. Prospective candidates have until Aug. 11 to file.
• Gave preliminary approval, without discussion, to a long-term facilities revenue and expenditure budget. The complete budget will be discussed and receive final action at an upcoming board meeting.
• Hired Nathan Anderson as a science teacher at North Woods.
• Hired Tia Jansen as a social worker to be based at North Woods.
• Approved the resignations of paraprofessional Joshua Gaskell, preschool teaching assistant Danielle Johnson, and paraprofessional and van driver Samantha Schultz, all from North Woods.
• Approved Joel Anderson as North Woods football head coach, and assistants Nathan Anderson, Dan Reing, and Mark Fabish; Kandi Olson as North Woods volleyball head coach, with assistants Kaileen Redmond, Julie Holien, and Sue LaVigne; and Dan Squires as cross country assistant for North Woods.