DeKALB – The DeKalb School District 428 leadership approved a plan to give a boost to security staffing at DeKalb High School and Clinton Rosette and Huntley middle schools beginning this spring.
Action taken by the school board in a 6-0 vote at a recent meeting increases the security assistant presence at the high school and two middle schools by five full-time employees bringing the total to 19. Board member Amanda Harness was absent.
Discussion on the topic previously took place before the school board last month. At the time, school officials questioned the idea of adding more than a dozen security assistants to DeKalb High School and the two middle schools.
The proposal comes on the heels of the district releasing safety audit results that indicated that school buildings could use additional security assistants to observe and patrol critical areas and manage incidents. It also allows for greater staff flexibility with lunch breaks and coverage before and after normal school hours.
Board Member Jeromy Olson suggested that the district scale down the proposal and consider adding additional resources at one of the three schools.
The school board originally a floated security assistant staffing request with as many as 13.5 full-time employees.
“I think it just give you some time to play with more people and see and make a more informed decision as far as what you think the end goal should be,” Olson said.
Not everyone shared that sentiment.
Board member Sarah Moses said the district could open up additional security assistant positions, but retaining and attracting new teaching assistants is another consideration.
“My guess would be that if we were able to staff classroom assistants, we wouldn’t have such a need for security assistants,” Moses said.
The district is short by 52 teaching assistants, officials said.
Holly Bonilla, a teaching assistant at Founders Elementary School, said she and some in similar positions feel under appreciated and devalued. She questioned what the district intends to do to retain its paraprofessionals.
“I am speaking to the fact that many of us are bringing home maybe $600 or $700 every two weeks to do a job of two to four people,” Bonilla said.
Citing the many reasons why she stays committed to her job, Bonilla said she wants to be there to support students.
“This is their education on the line,” Bonilla said. “This is their future. This is their step into adulthood. This is all they have. We are helping them on this journey. We are the reason that they move forward towards their independence. This is what we do. My question to all of you is, ‘What are you going to do when you lose the people that are the only reason that your schools are functioning? We are the only reason that you are working the way that you are.’ ”
April Fleck, a reading specialist at Founders Elementary School, said the district can’t afford for paraprofessionals to leave.
“I worry about what happens to the education of our students,” Fleck said. “They do an incredible job. I witness it everyday in the halls as I walk back and forth to go get my students or to return them, which is many, many times a day. I am always in awe of their capabilities, their strength and their patience. They’re the best.”
Bonilla said classroom assistants may play the first line of defense in ensuring safety and security.
“Security and safety is a part of what we do,” Bonilla said. “We sit down for safety training. We sit down to make sure what is the safest route we can take with a student if they start to get aggressive, go into crisis, have a violent moment. That’s our job.”
Board President Samantha McDavid acknowledged the concerns raised about paraprofessional pay and workload and said the district intends to rectify the matter.
“Our board has been cognizant that paraprofessionals are extremely important for a long time,” McDavid said. “It’s very difficult to figure out what the appropriate way to compensate and support them are in a way that also makes sense financially for the district. It’s been brought up by more than one board members … that we’d like to look at this.”
Olson maintained interest in seeing additional security assistants employed in the schools.
Some school officials, however, wanted the proposal to evoke a sense of fairness across the three buildings.
Board Vice President Deyci Ramirez questioned what’s the best course of action to take.
“What would be the most effective in all fairness with providing actual data – something that’s tangible, something that’s measurable – rather than something we’re just putting a bandaid on?” Ramirez said.
Olson suggested that the district employ five new security assistants, with one at Clinton Rosette Middle, one at Huntley Middle and three at DeKalb High.
Jose Jaques, the district’s security manager, acknowledged the merits of the proposal and said he could support it.
“It would definitely bring back some data that would show whether it’s effective or not,” he said. “I am 100% certain it will be effective.”
Jaques said the greatest amount change would occur at the high school if it were to be noted.
“If you’re forcing me to pick just one school, it’d be the high school,” Jaques said.
But Jaques said the option of having three security assistants at the high school, one at Clinton Rosette Middle and one at Huntley Middle gives the district the best picture.