TUSCOLA, IL – Paraprofessionals from the Tuscola Education Support Professionals Association (TESPA) and supporters from the community wore red and packed a Tuscola Board of Education (BOE) meeting Monday evening. Several TESPA members spoke about their financial issues and presented the board with copies of their paystubs. Parents and teachers also spoke on behalf of TESPA and described the vital role they play within the Tuscola school system.
TESPA members who spoke include Rachel Haste, Robyn Stone and TESPA President Katie Burlew.
TESPA member Rachel Haste:
“I started working at North Ward in August 2009. During those years, I knew my pay was low, but I also thought I was doing my part for the school district by helping with the finances and helping students find success in the classroom. While I worked as a paraprofessional, I continued to provide childcare after school and during the summers. I also cleaned houses. I was willing to do that because I trusted that you were taking care of me as an employee.
Imagine my surprise last year when I learned that the starting wage for paraprofessionals was brought up to $14 an hour and I had been working for the district for 13 years and was earning $13.44 an hour –56 cents less an hour! We have paraprofessionals who at that time had been working for the district for five years and were only making $12 an hour and some who had been working for 20 years only making $14.76.
When this was brought to your attention in August of 2021, I do not understand why an immediate change was not made. And now that we are a mere 14 cents an hour apart in our proposed base pay rates, I urge you to do the right thing and pay the paraprofessionals in our district for each year of experience and for the hard work we do.”
TESPA member Robyn Stone:
“Good evening. For those who don’t know me, my name is Robyn Stone. This is my fourth year as a paraprofessional at North Ward. I’m a single mom of two teenagers. I have 14 years of experience in education, a bachelor’s degree and I’m fluent in Spanish. While I have worked in other fields that I enjoyed, my heart is in education, and I feel like I have found my home at North Ward.
Unfortunately, it is a challenge trying to make ends meet on the extremely low wages paraprofessionals make in our district. To supplement my income, I do real estate photography and, as you can see, I work part-time at Hardee’s. For the last year and a half, I have been working six, and sometimes seven, days a week. If anyone is curious, Hardee’s at the Love’s truck stop pays me $2/hour more than the school district and offers great benefits.
Given how long it has taken to settle on a reasonable contract, I think it is safe to say that many of the aides would have walked away by now if not for our commitment to your kids. To put it bluntly, I believe that the board and administration knows just how much we love the kids and is taking advantage of that.”
TESPA President Katie Burlew:
“Good evening, I’m Katie Burlew. I have lived here for seven years, am married and have three children in the Tuscola School District. I was first hired to work in the district as a substitute teacher in 2018. In 2020, I became the library aide at East Prairie.
I did not take this position for the money, but I did expect to be fairly compensated for the hard work I do every day.
Many of the para positions are highly stressful due to the caseload we are given. Many of us work with students with social/emotional and behavioral challenges, autism and Individualized Education Plans. Many days this can be emotionally draining, especially when we are short staffed and many of the paras are not trained to handle such situations.
I believe that $14 is not a fair wage for what our district requires of us.
Only 14 out of our 20 paras were employed in this district last year. Eight of those 14 were being paid less than $14 an hour. One was making $12.30 an hour. Five were making $12 an hour. Six paras were hired this year at $14 an hour and the eight paras from last year were moved to $14 an hour.
I made $14/hr last year. My taxable gross earnings were just over $17,000. If I was single or a single mom, like many of our paras, that amount would qualify me for food stamps, WIC and many other public assistance programs. I am only paid during the school year and my monthly take home pay is on average $375 per week. For my family of five, this barely covers groceries for the month. I work an additional job as a property manager to earn extra income.
This is what nearby districts pay their aides:
- Shiloh: $15.62/hourr, plus extra for experience
- Arcola: $15/hour, plus extra for experience
- Unity: $15.98/hour
We are asking for fair compensation for our dedication and the hard work we do every day. My husband and I moved to Tuscola because it is known for its great pride in community, powerhouse sports programs and most importantly, top notch schools where education is the priority.
It is an honor and privilege to work beside so many amazing teachers and support staff. Helping our students feel successful, motivated, loved and appreciated everyday are just a few things I love about my job.
TESPA member Kimberly Martin:
“Tuscola has always been home to me, as Tuscola is where I was born and raised, and graduated from in 2012. I couldn’t be prouder to have the opportunity to be a part of each child’s educational journey at North Ward Elementary. Yes, as a paraprofessional, we are responsible for working with students who are struggling, going over homework assignments and monitoring them during lunch and recess duties, but it really is much deeper than the physical duties and positions throughout the school building.
Since Covid, there are so many students who have had major setbacks physically, emotionally, academically and mentally. Paraprofessionals are those ‘behind the scenes’ superheroes that work nonstop to ensure all physical, emotional, academic and mental needs are met because your children are loved and supported by each of us.”
TESPA represents 21 paraprofessionals in District 301. Paraprofessionals work with the most vulnerable students in our schools and help teachers, assisting students with individualized education programs (IEPs), behavioral challenges and those with autism and other disabilities. Paraprofessionals also supervise the homework club, which helps students who are failing, or at risk of failing, classes.
TESPA has been negotiating with the BOE since Feb. 10. The next bargaining session is set for Nov. 2.
At 135,000 members strong, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) is the largest union in Illinois. The IEA represents PreK-12 teachers outside the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.