Elgin Area School District U-46 paraeducators are demanding respect and higher wages.
More than 100 members of the District U-46 Educational Assistants union attended Monday's school board meeting where representatives said they weren't getting paid enough for dealing with students' academic, social and emotional needs.
The district and union have been in negotiations for a year. The previous three-year contract, which expired a year ago, granted a 55-cent hourly raise across all levels in fiscal year 2016 with an extra 15 cents per hour for home school liaisons. In fiscal year 2017, hourly rates increased by 2.75 percent across all levels. Union members want an hourly raise of 80 cents.
Union President Sara Moeller, a U-46 paraeducator for 20 years, said more than 80 percent of members live in U-46 communities, 40 percent are primary income earners and 31 percent are sole income earners.
"The median wage of our members is $18,407," she said. "Some members go to a food pantry to put food on their tables, and their children are on free and reduced lunch at school. Support from other government agencies are often needed as well. The district is literally nickelling and diming us. We know that the district has money to meet our request without raising taxes."
Moeller said workloads are increasing, and health insurance costs have been skyrocketing the past several years.
"Our paychecks have not been keeping up with those increases," Moeller said. "The district has proposed to cap salaries at $22,080 and that's after 10 years of service. Poverty level is $24,000 for a family of four. We are worth more than poverty-level wages."
School board members did not publicly respond to their concerns.
Paraeducators are required to have an associate degree or equivalent college credit hours or pass a test and be licensed by the state.
"We are not unskilled labor," Moeller said. "We impact the lives of students of U-46 and we demand respect and value for what we do."
Norma Bandel, a home school liaison at Bartlett High School who has been with the district 16 years, said her job is translating for teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses, parents, and students helping them communicate.
"We are the people that speak another language and we are customer service to everybody," she said.
Lynn Sotomayor, who has spent 24 years working in 14 schools, said her work goes beyond the job description.
"I'm a surrogate mom or grandma to some children. "I am their confidante ... I'm the cleaning crew ... I am the supply and snack provider sometimes paying my own money. I am their cheerleader. I am their disciplinarian."