Just as students are preparing to return to in-person schooling in Jeffco this September, support professionals including the custodians, food service workers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and …
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Just as students are preparing to return to in-person schooling in Jeffco this September, support professionals including the custodians, food service workers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and others are also anxious to return to school buildings and see what their new reality looks like.
But over the past few weeks, some support professionals in union JESPA (Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association) have voiced concerns about the details of their return, particularly in terms of wages, safety and job security.
JESPA members held a Facebook town hall on Aug. 11 to call for pay increases, which could be funded by a 10% pay cut for central administrators, said JESPA president Lara Center at the conference.
“We have 4,000 ESPs in this district, many struggling to survive. When we have fully employed citizens standing in line at the food bank, we know there is a problem,” she said. “We are also still severely short staffed, and the district should prioritize essential workers and staffing where our students need support most and cutting central administrators.”
The support professionals also have several other asks, including requesting hazard pay for certain employees — specifically, for custodians cleaning a building that has been shut down due to a COVID-19 case, or for aides supervising students who are quarantining on campus because they show COVID symptoms.
During an Aug. 13 bargaining session between JESPA and the district, Chief Human Resources Officer David Bell told the JESPA bargaining team that “we believe we’ve implemented appropriate safety measures and training protocols in schools and buildings and do not recognize the need for hazard pay.”
But JESPA came back with a proposal requesting time-and-a-half pay for employees put at risk by the aforementioned circumstances. As of Aug. 17 the two sides have yet to finalize a deal addressing this issue.
Leading up to the Aug. 13 session, support professionals also had concerns around what bus driver Monte Hollander called “loopholes” in the district’s proposal.
The district previously proposed that it would not reduce its workforce or implement furlough days “for the 2020-21 school year as a mechanism to balance the annual budget,” its proposal said.
However, Bell clarified that a reduction in force or furlough days could still be possible for a different reason: If the district’s business needs changed.
JESPA members have perceived this as a loophole as well as a regressive proposal, Center said. In June, the district came to the table with a proposal from which members interpreted that “the district’s intentions were to institute no layoffs,” she said.
Hollander agreed, holding the proposal is not only regressive but could also be enough to drive some employees away.
“The dangerous impact it could have on Jeffco students and families when workers are threatened with back-door layoffs and they’re constantly underpaid, (is that) they can’t afford to stay with us,” he said.
But Bell said that he does not believe the proposal was regressive. Rather, it was a “clarification and response” to JESPA’s negotiations, he said.
“We do feel that we have been genuine and honest with our presentations and proposals,” Bell said.
On Aug. 13, JESPA again asked the district to vow not to layoff or furlough employees in 2020-2021.
Bell then proposed that the two groups discuss business-needs related layoffs and furloughs during a discussion around working conditions, as opposed to just compensation.
The groups will now negotiate about furlough and layoffs related to business needs when bargaining their Memorandum of Understanding at a later date.
“We believe that it is in the school district’s and our students’ interest to protect jobs during a pandemic, as we need a ready workforce that will be able to support students and our teachers when they return to school,” Center said. “We hope to have (bargaining) done ASAP. Every time we sit at the table with the district, we hope to get a deal that day.”
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