TUSCOLA — The Tuscola Education Support Professional Association and the school board have entered into federal mediation for their contract negotiations.
“We’re asking to be fairly compensated for the good, hard work we do every day," said union spokesperson Rachel Haste in a press release. "We know the district has the funds to meet this request without raising taxes. It’s the right thing to do for our schools and our students."
Tuscola Superintendent Gary Alexander said the board cannot comment on the negotiations with the union. He said this is due to the ground rules set forth and agreed upon by both groups. He said once the board enters into negotiations with a mediator, it will comment.
Haste said the union is asking for wages that make its paraprofessional positions competitive with nearby school districts. She said the union has lost more than 40% of its paraprofessionals in the last two years, many to neighboring districts and to businesses along U.S. 36 such as McDonalds, Love’s and Old Navy that pay more.
"Due to the high turnover rate, new paraprofessionals do not have the training and experience to successfully handle education support and behavioral situations," Haste said. "This means our students lose."
The union reported that the 20 paraprofessionals currently in its bargaining unit work with the most vulnerable students in Tuscola schools. The union reported that they help teachers by assisting students with individualized education plans, behavioral challenges, and those with autism and other disabilities. Paraprofessionals also supervise the homework club for academically at-risk students.
Haste said the board is proposing to not pay employees for each year of experience they gain in the district, which she feels will cause Tuscola to lose more paraprofessionals to other districts and professions.
"We are hopeful working with a federal mediator will help the administration see the value of our hardworking staff and help them commit to both attracting and retaining talented paraprofessionals," Haste said.
The union reported that it has been negotiating with the board since Feb. 10 and that the next bargaining session is set for Oct. 11.