SYCAMORE – Superintendent Steve Wilder responded Wednesday to comments made during Tuesday’s Sycamore Community School District 417 board meeting, and said he “understands and appreciates the support staff and educators in the district for all the hard work they have done and continue to do.”
Wilder’s comments come after parents and a district paraprofessional said 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 Tuesday “all paraprofessionals are stretched way too thin.”
Wilder said that Korth “made a lot of very good points.”
“Paraprofessionals serve a very important role in any school district, including ours,” Wilder said. “The staffing shortage is evident across the board in all departments, paraprofessionals included. We have tried different strategies to recruit new people for those positions, but there is still a shortage.”
He said he understands a lack of staff in one area means remaining staff bear extra burdens.
“We know when there’s a staffing shortage, the other existing staff pick up those responsibilities, too,” Wilder said.” It’s been a challenging time for everyone during the pandemic.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, parent Elizabeth Lundeen asked the school board what they are doing to take care of teachers.
The contract the school district had with the Sycamore Education Association, the school district’s teachers union, expired July 31, according to district documents.
When reached for comment Wednesday, negotiators for the teachers’ union deferred comment to the union president, saying talks are ongoing.
Wilder said that although the contract has expired, the teachers are working under the language of it until a new one is agreed upon.
“We are in the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the SEA,” he said. “We are looking forward to working towards an agreement and a new contract.”
It’s the second time in recent weeks a local DeKalb County school board meeting has brought forward concerns related to work environment and staff retention and recruitment. On Oct. 19, DeKalb School District 428 educators told the DeKalb school board they were “exhausted” and felt “disrespected,” amid overcrowded classrooms. DeKalb district employee unions, including educators, support and custodial staff, said they’re fighting for a “non-punitive” COVID-19 sick leave policy. In response, DeKalb Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez said she’s met with the union “as least monthly and any other time they have requested it.”
Wilder said he has ongoing conversations with teachers and support staff – and their unions – on a regular basis.
“They do a great job of advocating for their members, and I know they recognize the staffing shortage issues are not unique to Sycamore,” Wilder said.
Shane Dukes, a parent to a Sycamore Middle School student, told the school board Tuesday that staff are leaving the district. Mom Colleen Overton asked, “What will happen when the teachers go on strike?”
Wilder said Wednesday that walk outs and strikes “are something we would hope to avoid.”
“We haven’t been notified of any attempt to walk out or strike at this time,” he said. “Our unions make requests to support their membership, and we do our best to accommodate them. We navigate the best we can.”