Indian River school board wrestles over parapro pay

GEORGETOWN — It’s back to the bargaining table for the Indian River School District and the district’s paraprofessionals.

Several weeks after the current paraprofessional contract status was voiced before IRSD board of education, school board president Charles Bireley announced last week that negotiations are slated to resume later this month.

“We are going to be meeting with them on Friday, Jan. 18,” Mr. Bireley said.

During a presentation in the public commentary session of the Dec. 17 school board meeting, Tracy Makowski, vice president of district’s paraprofessionals, asked the board “to return to the table and be willing to negotiate.”

The district currently employs approximately 200 paraprofessionals.

Charles Bireley

The district’s previous contract with paraprofessionals expired June 30, 2017. There was a one-year extension to June 30 of 2018.

“Our paraprofessionals are among the least paid in Sussex County,” said Ms. Makowski. “When total compensation is considered, it’s time to compensate us fairly. Our paras work directly with our students, to help them achieve success. We provide huge support to our teachers. Why are we the only group to not receive a fair raise? Let’s have open communication and come to an agreement that respects the paras and the hard work that we do.”

“We were originally talking about a two-year deal. That’s what we had talked about,” said Mr. Bireley. “Their contract actually expired on the 30th of June last year (2018). We were going to try to do two years.”

The offer was 2 percent and 2 percent, retroactive to July 1 of 2018, Mr. Bireley said.

The previous contract with the paraprofessionals that expired in 2017 called for a 3-percent increase on local salary in fiscal year 2015, retroactive to July 1, 2014, with an 8-percent increase in FY16 and 4-percent increase in FY17.

Ms. Makowski spoke of the sacrifice made by the paras.

“When the district was having financial problems, paras shouldered the burden,” said Ms. Makowski. “We had 41 paras RIF-ed, many of the paras had to be relocated into other buildings. We rolled over our contract and got zero percent raise.”

With the district’s improved financial position, the district was able to rehire paras, said Ms. Makowski, a paraprofessional in the Intensive Learning Center at Sussex Central High School.

“Also, you were able to hire positions in IREC, create an administrative pay-scale and place all administrators on this scale making sure administrators are paid fairly. You were able to give teachers back their raises a year early,” said Ms. Makowski. “Unfortunately, the board will not bargain a fair way to paras. We have been offered a 2-percent raise and were told they will not consider other ideas. A 2-percent raise with paras is at the lowest 1.91, and at the highest $7.30 – a check before taxes. Other bargaining units in the district have received raises throughout the past fiscal years. It’s time to be fair to the paraprofessionals.”

Later during the Dec. 17 board meeting, J.R. Emanuele, president of the Indian River Education Association, echoed support of the district’s paraprofessionals.

Tracy Makowski

“I think Tracy Makowski spoke well for the paras,” said Mr. Emanuele. “Although I am not a part of bargaining committee for the paras, I would urge all board members to take a look at the numbers that she talked about, and how the two-percent offer would affect the individual, not how it affects the entire district; $1.91 up to $7.30 every two weeks, it doesn’t sound like much. A one-percent pay increase for almost 200 employees would cost the district less than $8,000. So, you’re talking about spending $16,000 on 200 employees, and saying that’s enough.”

Mr. Emanuele added that he is hopeful the “out-of-the-box thinking that has been successful in so many of the other areas will also be considered here. I again urge the entire board to have an open mind and stay informed, because this is a very important issue, especially when you have a referendum coming up. You have 200 employees that I am not sure will help if we don’t at least sit down at the table.”

“Like I said, I’m not part of the negotiations team, but I will do whatever I can to at least facilitate conversation, because the lack of conversation doesn’t get us anywhere,” said Mr. Emanuele. “Working together is what has made us successful for years and years now. I think we should continue to work as a team rather than management … employee.”

The district’s contract with custodians expires June 30, 2019. “We’re expecting negotiations on that to begin this spring,” said IRSD spokesman David Maull.

Current contracts with teachers, secretaries, nutrition services managers and and nutrition services workers run through June 30, 2020.

The teachers’ contract, effective July 1, 2017, originally called for a one-percent local salary increase in FY2017-18, two-percent in FY2018-19 and 3-percent in FY2019-20.

However, at the August 2018 meeting following renegotiations, the IRSD board of education voted to offer teachers a 5-percent pay raise for FY2018-19 with zero percent for FY2019-20.

“Basically, what we did was the two raises they were supposed to get the next two fiscal years, we combined and gave them the 5-cents in 2018-19 rather than spread it out over two years,” said Mr. Maull.

 

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