District 15 approves contentious contract

After nearly seven months of negotiations, the St. Francis School District 15 has hammered out a contract with its educational assistants (EA).

The contract, which was retroactive to July 1, 2011 and runs through June 30, 2013, was approved by the school board May 14 on a 4-0 vote.

Boardmembers Harry Grams and David Anderson abstained. Boardmember Suzanne Erkel was absent.

Of the 70 educational assistants voting, 94 percent approved the contract for the 183 EAs.

Contract negotiations started at the end of October 2011 and the EA group asked that a mediation team from the Mediation Services be brought in February when an agreement could not be reached.

“The contract group did not accept the negotiation parameters set by the school board,” said David Lindberg, district human resources director.

The EA group had concerns over salary, longevity, bereavement leave and the length of employee probation.

Feb. 24 the two groups met with the mediation team for nine to 10 hours, Lindberg said.

During the first year of the contract, the employees will be paying 1.8 percent more for their health care costs, but it will remain steady in the second year, said Lindberg.

For 2011-2012, the EAs will receive their earned advancements, longevity and the same sick leave days dating back to July 1, 2011.

To fund a 25 cent increase in pay for 2012-2013, the EAs will be forfeiting two vacation/sick days, Lindberg said.

Currently, the EAs earn between 10 to 12 vacation/sick days a year, he said.

The new contact also rewrites how the group can use family leave.

The language is more permissive and will allow the employees up to five days off to attend funerals and grieve no matter their relationship to the deceased, Lindberg said.

Prior this contract, the bereavement leave was restricted with an allotted time based on the relationship of the deceased, he said.

The EAs also wanted a redefinition on when longevity could start and the number of hours required to earn longevity.

To earn a year of longevity, EAs must work 1,020 hours a year, said Wendy Bengtson, human resources administrative assistant.

When the district reduced the number of student contact hours, many EAs dropped below the required 1,020 hours a year required for longevity, she said.

The contract now includes a one-year variance. Even if the EAs drop to 918 hours because of the change, the year will still count toward their longevity, Lindberg said.

Creating the new language will help the district’s EAs if they drop to 920 hours because of the involuntarily change in hours, Bengtson said.

For the variance, the employee will have to have earned longevity in the 2010-2011 school year, Lindberg said.

“After that one year, the requirement of 1,020 hours for longevity eligibility will be reinstated,” he said.

The EAs also had wanted both full-time and part-time EAs to be eligible to earn longevity after being hired for continuous employment, but the 1,020 hours benchmark remained.

Also on the district’s contract negotiation list was to increase the EA probation from 90 day to 120 days. The district later conceded the issues. Probation remains at 90 days.

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]