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McHenry Educational Support Professionals union rallies for 'living' wages

Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com
Union President Pat Phillips (left) marches to the district's Central Office during Tuesday's McHenry Educational Support Professionals Rally at McHenry East High School Sept. 5, 2017. About 150 people, marched, chanting for fair wages and holding posters asking for a fair settlement.
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Union President Pat Phillips (left) marches to the district's Central Office during Tuesday's McHenry Educational Support Professionals Rally at McHenry East High School Sept. 5, 2017. About 150 people, marched, chanting for fair wages and holding posters asking for a fair settlement.

McHENRY – From paraprofessionals to translators, secretaries, custodians and maintenance workers, it takes more than only teachers to run a successful school, officials from the McHenry Educational Support Professionals union said.

However, support staff have been working without a contract since July, union President Pat Phillips said. Fair wages and rising insurance costs are the key problems the union hopes to change, she said. 

Staff and community members rallied at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday outside the McHenry East High School campus and marched to the district’s Central Office, where another negotiation meeting began an hour later.

About 150 people, dressed in red to show solidarity, marched, chanting for fair wages and holding posters asking for a fair settlement. Negotiations with the union and McHenry School District 15 started in March, Phillips said.

There are about 190 support staff members for the elementary district, and more than half are in the union, Phillips said. McHenry School District 15 is made up of eight schools serving about 5,000 students, according to the district’s website.

“We are fighting for a living wage because a lot of our support staff who live in McHenry County are earning below the poverty level and have to apply for free and reduced lunches and fee waivers,” Phillips said before the rally. “As a single parent, it is very difficult for them to only work one job in the district and make ends meet.”

In the last contract, approved in July 2012, employees received an estimated 6 percent pay raise over five years. For fiscal 2017, positions including building secretary, instructional
assistant, custodian, maintenance technician and translators received a range of about $11 to $18 per hour, according to the contract.

Christopher Tentler, a 10-year-old student at Chauncey H. Duker School who suffers from spastic quad cerebral palsy, attended Tuesday’s rally in a shirt that said “show me the money.”

His mom, Sandra Tentler of McHenry, said she promised her son she would always fight to ensure her son had proper support, which comes from the one-on-one paraprofessional aids.

“You make sure they are getting everything they need to learn, thrive and be treated as equal beings,” Tentler said. “... You keep these kids safe despite putting yourself in harms way, and you do this under the radar without the proper appreciation from the administration.”

Jason Hocin, a McHenry resident and custodian at Hilltop Elementary School, has been with the district for about 11 years.

His daughter was born with a heart condition and is on his wife’s health maintenance organization plan instead of the preferred provider organization they had for more than 10 years but dropped because they couldn’t afford it anymore.

“When I started here almost 11 years ago, someone who got hired on six years later made the same as me,” he said. “People who have stuck with the district don’t get rewarded.”

Trish Ramel, communications secretary for the union, works as a paraprofessional in special education and said many employees work two to three jobs to have enough money. Although they cannot afford to live, she said, they do not want to leave because they care about the students. 

Ramel said they also are looking for acknowledgment for workers who have been at the district for many years but have not advanced to a senior level. 

“Parents and others in the community don’t always realize all the work we do,” Ramel said. “If it wasn’t for all of us working together under one umbrella, a school wouldn’t be able to run.”

District 15 Superintendent R. Alan Hoffman and Board of Education President Kimberly Qualls could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

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