Kane County Chronicle

Kaneland ‘honorably dismisses’ 9 school support staff members

Kaneland honorably dismissed nine response to intervention (RTI) personnel for the 2022-2023 school year due to the transition from an RTI model to a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) model.

The Kaneland Community School District 302 school board voted 4-1 at Monday night’s meeting to a reduction in force for Stephanie Ortegel, Mona Fergus, Christine Noel, Sara Chumbley, Judy Franck, Jennifer Biddle, Kathy Kerry, Melissa Lacey and Adam Wittman.

Ryan Kerry was the lone board member to vote against the recommendation. Addam Gonzalez, Bob Mankivsky, Jennifer Simmons and Teresa Witt voted in favor while Aaron Lawler abstained and Meg Junk was absent.

“I just can’t support moving people who are good at their jobs out of their jobs,” Kerry said.

Illinois State School Code, in accordance with the Support Professionals’ Education Association of Kaneland (SPEAK) collective bargaining agreement, necessitated the dismissal of the nine, which included five RTI teaching assistants and four learning resource center assistants. All but one of the nine are at the elementary level.

“It is an unenviable process,” said Dr. Chris Adkins, director of human resources for Kaneland. “It is not something we relish at all.”

Witt shared some historical perspective from a board standpoint since she’s been on all of the SPEAK negotiating teams.

“We know that everyone is doing a great job - that is not the point - but if we were to not follow the seniority guidelines we would be in violation of labor laws,” she said. “It would be unfair labor practice so this is somewhat of a necessary evil and at every step of the way it has been board approved. To yank the rug out tonight at the one little stage before full implementation doesn’t seem fair.”

A handful of people spoke against the dismissal of the personnel during public comment, including Rachel Ramos, library resource director at Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove.

“I urge you as a board to visit our elementary schools and talk with the teachers,” she said. “Don’t rely on the district staff to assure you that all is well and students are getting sufficient instruction and the library collections meet their needs. Ask the teachers what they need in their schools where libraries are concerned and how a certified librarian would help them meet their standard. I think you might be surprised at what you learn.”

Noel fought back tears while explaining that such staffing changes likely will hurt the kids.

“Their lives have been disrupted enough with COVID, masks and e-learning,” she said. “A change like this could be significant in the emotional impact on them.”

Sugar Grove resident Kristen Stalcup reiterated to the board that it would be the kids that are going to be hurt most by this decision.

“The impact they have on these students is unbelievable because they care not just about the books, but they care about these kids and are doing everything they can to foster the love of reading, and we know that reading is unbelievably important when it comes to education,” she said “I have to imagine the other [learning resource center staff members], if they are anything near Mrs. [Mona] Fergus, our kids are being greatly helped right now and this would be an unbelievable disservice to take that away from them.”

Although the learning resource center staff members have been let go, they will be immediately recalled and will be offered other positions within the district for the upcoming school year based on seniority in alignment with state law, board policy, the SPEAK contact and past practice.

Kaneland currently has 18 anticipated openings for 2022-2023.