We Came, We Were Seen, We Were Heard! ESPs Share Their Concerns at School Board Meeting

Vote to be Taken at Special School Board Meeting, May 3rd

 By Scott Farsworth 

Last Monday, April 25th, the newly seated School Board had a full agenda of important business, including the discussion item on the possibility of increasing the health insurance premium contribution to 12% for all employee groups, effectively doubling the contribution amount required from Education Support Professional (ESP) employees.  KEA members were at this meeting in force to let the School Board know just how significant an impact such an increase would have on their budgets.  They spoke honestly – they spoke from the heart – and their message was not lost on School Board members.

Last Sunday, the KEA sent out notification of this item on the agenda and encouraged all members to attend in support of ESPs and the maintenance of their current 6% contribution rate.  Great credit goes to Sharon Karabetsos, Patti Prostko, and Patricia Milock, whose concern for what the increased contribution would cost overcame their concern about addressing the School Board publicly.  Each pointed out that their wages had yet to recover from the wage and step freezes in place since Act 10 was passed, which also added the deductions of the 6% health insurance and WRS retirement contributions to their checks.

The report before the board mentioned that an ESP member “could earn a salary of $25, 970,” but the reality is that the average ESP earns considerably less; a starting ESP up to 30% less.  An additional $1400 contribution for family plan coverage would cost such an employee nearly 10% of her/his take-home pay!  There was also mention made in the report of there being no way of knowing what an employee’s household income might be in relation to the contribution to insurance they were being asked to make. As KEA Interim Executive Director Scott Farnsworth pointed out in his remarks, “Why is it that an employee’s salary was considered in determining the fair distribution of the stipends, but is to be ignored when it comes to the amount charged for the premium contribution?  I don’t remember any discussion of household income in relation to the stipends.”

To the great credit of the School Board, they expressed both thanks to the ESPs who spoke and appreciation for the perspective they had provided.  They also referenced having received many emails on the issue as well.  That’s excellent!  Gary Kunich considerately moved that the discussion on this item be shifted to the head of the agenda, so that those who had come to share their concerns – and who had to get up for work the next morning – would not have to stay any later than necessary to hear what transpired.  That discussion made it clear that there was no real support for the idea of having the district’s lowest paid employees shoulder an additional financial burden.  The final decision, however, will be made at a special meeting of the School Board to be held Tuesday, May 3rd, at the ESC.

The lesson to be learned here is that one needs to give voice to one’s concerns, and the greater the number, the stronger the message.  This need is no different than it has ever been – even before Act 10, even when we had the mediation/arbitration law it stripped away – KEA members often had to take direct action to get contracts settled and decisions made.  The loss of collective bargaining does not mean that we lost the ability to take collective action.  Nor does that collective action have to be combative – it can be, as it was here, a simple expression of the truth – a truth of which those making the decision may not be wholly aware, and who will respond accordingly when made so. 

So, please join us at the May 3rd meeting.  Let the School Board members know that they started down the absolutely correct path with their discussion Monday night.  Be there to support and witness a proper course of action taken.  Get involved: The world is run by those who show up!