Prairie Grove School District 46 Board, support staff stuck in labor negotiations

Board offers pay raises; union says wages won't cover cuts to health insurance

Photo provided
Prairie Grove School District 46 Superintendent John Bute
Photo provided Prairie Grove School District 46 Superintendent John Bute

CRYSTAL LAKE – Support staff and the Prairie Grove School District 46 Board started labor agreement negotiations in March 2016.

Now they’re in federal mediation.

District Superintendent John Bute said in a news release this week that the board and the union, known as the Prairie Grove Education Support Personnel, continue to meet and negotiate in good faith for a fair and competitive contract.

Both parties met Tuesday night for almost five hours.

“No resolution was reached, but there was good discussion, and several open areas were better defined,” Bute said in the release.

The PGESP is made up of 45 district support staff members, including bus drivers, secretaries, office assistants, paraprofessionals and custodians.

In documents sent to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, the PGESP wrote that it hopes for a three-year contract, but the District 46 board has insisted on a six-year agreement from the start. Ultimately, the union agreed to negotiate a six-year deal, but now feels its benefits are being targeted by the board.

Although the board’s latest contract proposal includes pay raises of at least 2.5 percent each year of the contract, the union believes the board’s proposed cuts to insurance would leave workers unable to pay for such coverage.

The board’s latest offer shows an apparent commitment to raise all support staff wages incrementally to $15 an hour by the 2021-22 school year. The proposal would give raises to support staff ranging from 18 percent to 39 percent depending on their position over that time frame.

For example, the base hourly wage of a paraprofessional would rise from the current $10.81 to $15 in 2021.

In its latest proposal, the board said the cost to the district for support staff will increase $963,429 over the life of its six-year offer.

The union said in its latest letter to the IELRB that the board’s latest offer is “somewhat closer” to PGESP’s offer, but the union said the offer still is below the overall compensation of the existing contract.

The group said it has worked without raises since 2016, and inequities in salary have developed over time that need to be addressed.

“There are serious inequities among our current employee salaries,” the union said in its most recent offer submitted to the IELRB. “Because of these inequities, new employees can and will make more than current, experienced employees who are doing the same work.”

A number of experienced support staff employees left the district in search of better wages, the union said.

It appears the board’s latest offer looks to address that, with $288,425 of the $963,429 six-year cost increase going toward one-time pay-rate adjustments. The largest chunk of the increase, $441,448, would go to annual raises.

The next negotiation session is scheduled for Nov. 1.

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