ROCKFORD (WIFR) – We’re learning more about contract negotiations in District 205. For local paraprofessionals, secretaries, and nutrition workers.
“Most of us don’t make a living wage, we live in poverty.”
Jacqueline McLeod is a paraprofessional at Fairview Early Childhood Center in Rockford and she doesn’t make much more than minimum wage.
“When you make $9.53 per hour, it’s kind of hard to feel appreciated,” said McLeod. “They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”
Underappreciated is how hundreds of paraprofessionals and food service workers say they feel after about nine months of contract negotiations.
“We have not had a raise in the past five years and they’re wanting to raise our insurance and the reason I work is for insurance,” said Joanna Adams.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Willis says he knows it’s tough but costs are rising. “The problem is the wages area at a level right now that we can’t increase them enough to offset the increased cost of the health insurance premiums for family, we can do it for single.”
Willis says RPS is looking at similar surrounding districts to stay competitive.
“We’re comparable. They may be a little higher on salaries, but we’re better on health insurance.”
McLeod says these negotiations don’t feel any better, something that’s hard to forget when she’s teaching kids.
"We want to see them be successful and reach their milestones but it's hard to do that when you're worried about where your next meal is coming from or if you can pay your bills and I think we deserve a living wage.
Paraprofessionals will also have to pay a new, state licensing fee. Willis says that is being negotiated. The District has suggested paying the initial fee.
It’s hard to say when the District and the unions could come to an agreement. Their contracts expired at the end of June and they seem to be at a standstill on cost items. As we’ve seen in the past, it could take months. There is a bargaining session scheduled on Tuesday for the paraprofessionals. Also, contracts for bus drivers, maintenance workers and interpreters all end on June 30th of this year so the bargaining process will be ongoing.