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DECATUR — The union that represents Decatur Public Schools teaching assistants wants a federal mediator to help resolve several "sticking points" in ongoing contract talks between the union and the district. 

The Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants in a statement said contract talks began in April and the parties have met 11 times. Negotiations have stalled over issues that include wages, health insurance and contact hours with students, the union said.

“The members we represent at the table perform essential services for the students and families in this community. However, you wouldn’t know that from listening to the representatives of the board of education,” said union President Paula Busboom in a statement. 

“Each school day over two hundred of us work directly with the children of our community. We are the ones helping the children to learn to read, to write, and how to perform the life skills that will be essential to their lives as they grow and mature,” Busboom said. “We love these kids, we love our jobs. But if we aren’t given a living wage we won’t be able to stay here.”

School board President Beth Nolan said the board has no comment.

Superintendent Paul Fregeau and district spokeswoman Maria Robertson did not respond to a request for comment Monday. 

The Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants represents about 275 employees, who are teaching assistants, LPNs, hearing interpreters and hearing/vision technicians. Their contracts with the district are typically for three years. The previous contract ran from July 1, 2015, to June 30. Staff will return to work this month under the terms of the expired contract for now, Busboom said. Employees return Aug. 12, and school starts two days later. 

Speaking to the Herald & Review, Busboom declined to go into specifics about the areas of disagreement. 

"There are a number of sticking points," she said. "We're just basically at a point where we're not making any progress on any of those. Both sides decided it was in our best interests to go ahead and file for a federal mediator."

It could take as long as a month for a mediator to be assigned, Busboom said, and the mediator will provide both sides with available dates and times to choose from. 

In previous negotiations, Busboom said, talks began further in advance of the contract's expiration, and meetings were longer and more frequent than they were this time. Talks began in April because the union did not expect difficulty in resolving issues, she added. 

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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