CHATHAM – Members of the Ball-Chatham Education Support Professional Association (BCESPA) and supporters plan to speak ahead of tonight’s Ball-Chatham Community Unit School District 5 Board of Education (BOE) meeting. A BCESPA spokesperson plans to read a statement calling for the BOE to put students first during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“This is about the people who work with our children. We make so little money that many of us have two, and even three jobs, just to put food on the table. We continually lose education support staff. Over the last five years, there has been a revolving door and many unfilled positions” BCESPA President Greg Hames said. “We can’t put our students first if we put educators last.”
BCESPA represents 250 custodians, secretaries, paraprofessionals, maintenance workers, nurses, cooks and bus drivers who serve 4,788 students in the Ball-Chatham School District. BCESPA is currently working without a contract. Negotiations with the district began in July, and a federal mediator has been called in to help the two sides come to a fair agreement.
“This couldn’t come at a worse time. The majority of our members make less than $17,500 a year. Many people don’t realize their children’s bus drivers, classroom aides and cooks don’t make any money when the school is closed. The holidays are the most expensive time of year for many families, and for those who dedicate their lives to the students in our community it is especially difficult,” Hames said. “We know the district has the money to meet our requests without raising taxes. We’re not asking for the moon; we’re just asking to be able to survive.”
Insurance premiums have skyrocketed for BCESPA. Premiums have jumped from $558 per month to $751 per month. The insurance increase represents a nearly 13 percent hit to their already poverty-level wages. Meanwhile, over the past three years, the district has nearly doubled its fund reserves. The district has more than 200 operating days of cash on hand, gaining it a top fiscal rating from Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). The district has listed a fund reserve of $23.3M in its most recent annual financial report.
“This battle is about more than wages. It is about the mission – and vision – of Ball-Chatham. The educators of Ball-Chatham believe the school’s vision should be one that serves the best interests of students and their families over the long term,” Hames said. “That requires committing the resources necessary to recruit and then retain the most talented staff. We love caring for the children of our community but we need to be able to provide for our own children, too.”
BCESPA will be holding a rally tonight at 5 p.m. at the BCSD#5 District Office, 201 W. Mulberry St., Chatham. Rally-goers are invited to wear blue in support of BCESPA. Immediately following the rally, BCESPA will pack the school board meeting that begins at 6 p.m. in the same location.
Currently, there are no contract negotiation sessions set.
The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.