DECATUR — The Decatur Board of Education on Tuesday approved the creation of a new student support position to be introduced in district schools, despite the concerns of the union representing teaching assistants.
The board voted 6-1 to approve the new position, which Superintendent Paul Fregeau said was created to better serve district students on a social-emotional level. School board member Courtney Carson was the lone "no" vote.
The new position, called student support facilitator, will replace the 19 teaching assistants who oversee the alternative placement rooms, an alternative to out-of-school suspensions, according to Paula Busboom, president of the Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants.
That will mean that those teaching assistants' working conditions will change, the ones with seniority will be displaced and will take over other positions and teaching assistants with less seniority will receive “reduction in force” notices to be laid off.
Fregeau said the reductions in force were a tough decision to make, and they will be voted on at the school board's next meeting April 10.
The board was initially scheduled to vote on the new facilitator position at its March 13 meeting, Fregeau said, but the vote was pushed to Tuesday's meeting to allow more time for the board to discuss it.
Busboom and other DFTA members were present at Tuesday's meeting and asked the board to table to vote again. She said she learned of the new job's creation only a few days before the March 13 board meeting.
“Paul called me in for a meeting,” Busboom said. “I was flabbergasted, and I asked him to pull it from the agenda so we could talk about it first."
In total, Busboom said, 24 teaching assistants would have to be laid off, and the ones with seniority could end up with positions with fewer hours, which would lower their paychecks.
The new position also requires a bachelor's degree, which a teaching assistant's job does not, and the people who hold this job will not be part of the DFTA, Busboom said.
Creating this job and displacing those 19 teaching assistants, Busboom said, violates Article II of the union's contract with the district and constitutes “unfair labor practices.”
A change in working conditions like this one, Busboom said, means that the union has the right to ask the administration to come to the bargaining table for that one issue, and the district has agreed to do so, but no date has yet been set.
“We in the union have prided ourselves on collaborating with the district,” Busboom said. “We have collaborated through budget cuts, we have worked together to do that so it has the least impact on any groups as well as the classroom, keeping in mind we were always doing what was best for children. There's always a human side to anything like a budget cut. It's personal. It's a person, you're taking away their job. This (created job) is none of those things. This is not being done for budget reasons.”
Fregeau said the cuts are necessary to create the flexibility for the district to integrate the new position into the schools. The next steps, he said, are that Busboom will meet with the teaching assistants Wednesday to discuss the force reduction process, and their options to find new positions for the next school year.
The district will continue to discuss the new position with the DFTA, Fregeau said. "We're going to continue to talk to them, and see what we can figure out," he said.