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DECATUR — Members of the union representing 275 Decatur School District employees picketed for the second time Tuesday, seeking more cooperation from the Decatur Board of Education in the ongoing contract negotiations. 

"We've been told numerous times that the district's bargaining team is taking direction from the board of education," said Paula Busboom, president of the Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants. "We would like the board to give that committee more leeway in bargaining." 

Discussions started in April but have stalled over wages, hours, health care coverage and other issues, according to the union.

Union members also picketed before the Sept. 24 school board meeting. Superintendent Paul Fregeau said at that time that the board was hopeful progress could be made on the matter. “The district respects our employees and value our teaching assistants for the work they do for students. We want to do what’s right for these valued employees,” he said previously. 

The union represents the district's hearing interpreters, licensed practical nurses, hearing-vision technicians and teaching assistants who have been working under a contract extension since the academic year started in August.

Busboom has said the union filed a notice with the Labor Relations Board, which allows members to move forward with the process of a strike after seven days following the last offer from the union and school system. A strike would require a union vote.  

Busboom was among a number of people who addressed the school board during their meeting Tuesday, including several parents who said teaching assistants are vital to helping their children learn. 

A proposal was posted by the district on Sept. 25, outlining health benefits, salaries and other offers. The union responded on Sept. 28 with a letter outlining a number of pending issues, including: 

  • the cost of health insurance increases and the union’s proposal to increase salaries as a result;
  • unpaid leave time to allow teaching assistants to take their children to kindergarten screenings and individualized education plan meetings and to attend parent-teacher conferences;
  • time to visit school buildings to which the assistants may be moved as a result of facility mergers the district is planning;
  • making all teaching assistant positions a minimum of six hours per day;
  • having the district pay for licensing and continuing education costs for some positions, such as the fees that licensed practical nurse assistants must pay every two years and up to $1,000 in reimbursement for continuing education courses for sign language interpreters, LPN assistants and hearing and vision technicians;
  • a clearer list of job duties for teaching assistants.

The letter also made reference to changes in the school district's health insurance plan following bargaining with the teachers' union in 2018. The letter noted the teaching assistant union has agreed to a switch from a two-tiered system to a four-tiered system, that would save the district money, and would pay more for health insurance. But it said that members who now pay $366.67 monthly for premiums for family insurance plans would face a cost of $906.58 monthly under the district's proposal.

"We never received a copy of the high deductible plan," Busboom said. "Many members would not be able to afford the high deductible plan, which would be $3,000 out of pocket."

Decatur City Councilman Bill Faber attended the picket in support of the educators. 

"I'm here to stand in solidarity with our teaching assistants," Faber said. "I think they should be paid more and their health care should be taken care of." 

"We don't want to feel we are exhausting all of our options because the alternative is not one that we would really want to have to explore. But we will if we have to," Busboom said. 


READ THE TEACHING ASSISTANTS' PROPOSALS:

READ THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S PROPOSALS:

Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro

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