D-428 support staff, school board reach tentative agreement
DeKALB – Just in time for Corn Fest or to hit the road to see their beloved Barbs open their season on the gridiron against Lake Park in Roselle, DeKalb School District 428’s support staff got some great news.
“We have reached an agreement with the school board,” Mary Ellen Larsen, president of the DeKalb Federation of School Assistants, declared through a megaphone, eliciting a deafening roar of cheers.
That’s one way to break up a rally.
The union has been negotiating since March with the district board, and its contract expired Aug. 14. Although neither Larsen nor Cameron Sweeney, field services director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, would divulge details before the new contract is ratified, there have been murmors that the union was seeking a $2-an-hour wage increase.
“We were asking for more than that,” said Christal Egel, a media assistant at Lincoln Elementary School, as dozens of union members demonstrated along South Fourth Street, in front of the school district’s office Friday afternoon.
Egel, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, said equally important in the negotiations were improvements in the working environment and more professional development.
“We’re lacking in how to deal with emotional and behavioral issues in schools right now,” she said. “We need more training, better training.”
She said the third-grade classroom of her daughter, Addison, was evacuated Friday when a student was in crisis.
“To keep the students safe, we need to disrupt the learning of 24 other children because you don’t want to approach the child and have them be injured, or for them to injure you,” Egel said.
She said the district has, in fact, put an emphasis on socioemotional needs of students, and that it’s put a social worker in every elementary school to better assist.
“That has helped, because our social worker at school has been hopping up and down the hallways all week,” Egel said. “If she hadn’t been there, I don’t know what we would have done.”
“We all love our jobs,” she continued. “We don’t want this to come to a strike.”
Had either side of the negotiations declared an impasse, that could have been a possibility, but early in the game, a deal appears to have been struck.
As Mary Martin used an orange plastic megaphone to belt out “Living wage!” along with the rest of the demonstrators, a school bus rolled by and repeatedly honked its horn. She summed up nicely why she was demonstrating, not to mention why she came out of retirement to work in the district as a paraprofessional.
“Because I love the kids, and we try to do so much for them,” she said. “We just want a living wage for what we do.”