‘Stretched way too thin’ and ‘ready to walk,’ say Sycamore paraprofessional, parents about support staff

Sycamore District 427 parents, employee criticize low pay for support staff as schools grapple with shortages

SYCAMORE – Parents and a district employee told the Sycamore School Board on Tuesday they were unhappy about low pay and understaffed school buildings.

Nancy Korth, a paraeducator at North Elementary School who has worked in the district for 18 years, said “all paraprofessionals are stretched way too thin.” She said about 30 job openings have been left unfilled since the spring.

Korth criticized what she called low pay for paraprofessionals. She said the pay doesn’t cover costs of daycare, and applications to become a substitute teacher or paraprofessional are cost prohibitive due to the tests, education requirements and background check necessary.

“How do we keep our students safe, healthy and cared for when we are short, especially during this pandemic when we have added responsibilities of [COVID-19] testing, tracking and protocol procedures?” Korth said. “How can we attract candidates to our district to fill these positions before they find better employment offering more than $13 an hour?”

Sycamore parent Colleen Overton, who has three children in the school district, said she think it’s “unacceptable” for teachers who have taught for five years to be making less money than teachers with less experience.

“What will happen when the teachers go on strike?” Overton asked. “What will happen to these kids? Our kids are the ones that are paying for it. This pandemic, these kids are paying for it right now. They are so far behind. This is unacceptable.”

Parent Elizabeth Lundeen said she will “continue to fight for our children and ask questions about what is happening in this district.”

“I want to know why we’re at this point right now,” Lundeen said. “We’ve got to take care of our teachers to retain them in the community.”

Shane Dukes is a parent to a Sycamore Middle School student and said his wife works in the district. He told the school board staff are leaving the district.

“What you fail to realize is that, by my estimate, the majority of support staff has one foot out of the proverbial door and they’re ready to walk,” he said.

Dukes said district employees have an “unfaltering love for their jobs.”

“Would any of you have that same level of commitment for about $300 a week?” he asked. “Would you still show up to your current professions for what amounts to an $8,000 annual average below the poverty line in Illinois, yet you expect your employees to do the same? I mean, honestly, is this what you consider a fair wage?”

Dukes said he believes that “appreciation is the number one item missing in this district” and called on the board to consider what they pay staff.

“It’s been well publicized that [Superintendent Steve] Wilder has been driving a bus, and that’s awesome. But Mr. Wilder, are you ready to start completing the daily tasks of your support staff?” Dukes said. “Because this type of scenario could be on the horizon and will most likely cause District 427 to close its doors until replacements can be found, replacements that most certainly [are] not going to come to work for $300 a week.”

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