Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) will pay more than $1.56 million annually in additional employee salaries by 2015 if all of its unions settle for the preliminary offer made last week to the education assistants' union by district leaders.
The WAPS negotiating committee offered a one percent increase in salaries for the 2013-2014 school year, followed by a two percent increase in the 2014-2015 school year, and a three percent increase in the 2015-2016 school year. The committee also offered the union an additional pay step for educational assistants with the most seniority, agreeing to add an additional 55 cents per hour for the new top step.
When asked if the projections for each year are within the budget, Dan Pyan, WAPS director of fiscal affairs, said that the increase would be affordable, adding that the district may have to reduce funding in other areas in future years. “We will budget for the first year, and we will adjust to what happens — what we settle on — and adjust to get there.”
While district leaders recently announced that WAPS will not have to make budget reductions for the 2014-2015 school year, financial projections show the School Board will have to reduce the district's expenditures by $1.35 million between 2016 and 2018.
unions will respond
For Jan Holtet, an educational assistant for WAPS, one of the main concerns regarding the district’s budget proposal was the reduction of one paid holiday, which, she said, would add to the list of paid hours that have already been lost in prior years.
“We are losing a pay day this year and we lost one last year,” Holtet, the president of the Winona Educational Assistants Union, said at the district’s proposal meeting on Tuesday.
Among the recommendations made by the district was the elimination of a paid holiday in exchange for a 55 cent per hour pay increase for paraprofessionals at the highest seniority level and a supplementary personal day for those not at that highest level. In addition to the loss of one paid holiday, paraprofessionals who currently earn $500 in longevity pay will no longer receive that extra bonus. WAPS Human Resource Director Pat Blaisdell said the additional 55-cent step and the personal day would balance the loss of the paid holiday and longevity pay.
Holtet said some of the loss of educational assistant hours was due to the group's exclusion from certain teacher training sessions and other meetings included on teacher calendars. She said that education assistants would benefit from participation in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) — teacher groups that work to improve overall student achievement. PLCs meet by department throughout the year during student early release days and other days when classes are not in session.
“PLCs are coming in and we’re losing paid days,” Holtet said. “We have no control over this.”
Holtet suggested that educational assistants want and ultimately need more time, thus more paid days, for technology training, which she believed could be done by allowing educational assistants to attend PLC meetings. “We should be doing this with the PLCs; they're [learning about] technology,” she said. While educational assistants might be experts when it comes to working with students and directing a class, Holtet said they are lacking when it comes to technology training. “I couldn't turn on that Smartboard," she said. "I don't know how.”
Union representatives will meet with the negotiating team again on Tuesday, when the union is expected to make its first counter offer.
At the close of last week's meeting, Holtet stressed the union's distaste for a contract that would further reduce paid calendar days and not address technology training needs, adding that taking time from educational assistants was not in the best interest of the district.
“It feels like I’m not worth another $40," she said. "It’s an emotional thing. I feel like taking time away from us is not the best use of the district’s money.”