By Steve Robinson | October 31, 2020 - 10:07 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – With one abstention in voting, Board members unanimously approved a contract between the district and employees who are member of the union representing the district’s support professionals. The contract expires in 2023. Due to restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic, a number of the bargaining sessions between the district and Union representatives for these employees were done using Zoom video technology. Board Member Barry Hitchins cast the abstaining vote as he is married to a member of the union representing these district employees.

Curt Richardson, attorney for the district, informed Board members, “We had some virtual sessions and that kind of made it challenging because we had never done it that way before.” Through a number of sessions, the number of which he didn’t specify, Richardson characterized the negotiations as “good discussions which resulted in a contract with not a lot of substantive changes.”

Among the highlights of the contract for school office personnel working under this contract represented by Unit Five Support Professionals Association (UFSPA) will benefit from are that full-time employees who have been with the district for 20 years will receive an added week of vacation. He added the district, over the term of the full contract will see an increase in cost of 4.32 percent. UFSPA represents 265 administrative assistants, secretaries, and paraprofessionals in the district.

The State will raise the amount of minimum wage to be paid to employees to $15 per hour by 2025. Hitchins asked Richardson how that raise factored into these negotiations. Richardson said that did factor into negotiating the increase, adding that by the end of school year 2022-23, Unit 5 will still be paying above the minimum wage educational office personnel and others represented by their union during the contract period.

During that third year, per hour pay for UFSPA members will range from $14.07 an hour to $14.67 an hour, Richardson explained. Hitchins clarified and Richardson confirmed the district is still not where it needs to be in terms of paying the minimum that the State will begin to expect districts to pay by 2025 and that the State will not be adding funding to what it already receives from Springfield currently.

Board Member Alan Kalitzky complimented Richardson on his work during negotiations, adding, “This is an opportunity to show the level of value or attempt to show the level of value we have for these resources in our schools.” Board Member Mike Trask added his appreciation to both sides in the negotiations as they tried to complete the task virtually during the pandemic.

Students’ Return To Class, Covid, Part of Superintendent Comments: District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle announced that in the past couple weeks of October the three-quarters of district students from various grade levels who planned on returning to school during the pandemic were filing back into classrooms after having begun the semester participating in district learning. There are still about one-quarter of district students whose parents are opting for students to remain home continuing distance learning. The return began with Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade, 6th grade, and 9th grade students, followed a week later by students in grades 3, 4, and 5, followed by 7th and 8th graders, and high school sophomores through seniors.

Dr. Weikle said she had been visiting “a number of buildings, and a building is just not a building without the kids in it. I’ve seen so many smiles and students who have expressed their gratitude and pleasure and happiness to be back with their teachers. I saw a lot of smiling faces from the teachers, too.”

“I really just want to thank our students and families,” Dr. Weikle added. “I know, that for a lot of our families, this was a tough decision.” She added students are “doing a great job of wearing their masks and trying to follow social distancing.” She credited all staffers for their efforts for their efforts under these circumstances, acknowledging, “It’s not an easy task to do what our teachers are doing by trying to teach in-person learners,” as well as putting together “really engaging lessons” for students who are still learning remotely.

In terms of remote learning, Dr. Weikle said the district is using between 6-8 teachers per grade level in Kindergarten through 5th grade using teachers who either volunteered for the assignment or were reassigned to remote classes. Remote class sizes, she said range in size from between 12 and 35 students.

She said there are still some parents who desire for their students to switch from in-person to remote. But, Dr. Weikle said, “as sympathetic as we are to families changing their minds, we can’t have that constant back-and-forth because, as I said, some of the classes have 35 students in them for remote.” As a result, she said, the options open to the district are adding more students in the remote classes, or reassign additional teachers to teach remotely.

Dr. Weikle said adding more students to remote learning “isn’t a good idea, and adding more teachers to remote classes would also be disruptive.” As a result, she said, the district has ceased allowing students to go from in-person learning to remote learning.

The district conducted a survey over the summer concerning options concerning district versus in person learning. Dr. Weikle said stopping such changes from becoming an option “will make some parents really unhappy.” She added that from the options available to the district, Unit 5 is trying to make the best decision working with what she characterized as “really not great options.”

She added the district is keeping track of how many students may have or have contracted the Coronavirus and posted those details on the district’s website. “Our plan is to make parents and staff members aware of when we are made aware of a positive case,” she said, letting them know when a person with the virus has been in a school building at some point. Dr. Weikle said it is a procedure the district has been using since late August. She added the district has a team which monitors Coronavirus cases once they are made aware of them, and works with the McLean County Health Department to research contacts infected persons have had since contracting the virus.

The district’s website, www.unit5.org, indicates metrics, and that would include where students and staff have reported contracting a positive case of the disease.

Dr. Weikle reminded Unit 5 schools would not be open on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Normal Community West High School’s “Good News”: Dr. Weikle also introduced Board members and the small distantly spaced audience in Normal Community West High School’s cafeteria to Jasmyn Jordan, a senior at Normal West. Jordan is the winner of the Harry Hightower Award presented by the Bloomington-Normal NAACP. Dr. Weikle explained the award is given to a student who “embraces the spirit of diversity while being energetically and enthusiastically engaged in community service, community projects, and other community-based activities.”

Jordan is the founder of the Black Student Union at her school, which she accomplished toward the end of her sophomore year. She has been part of Normal West’s Freshmen Mentoring Program, as well. She is the daughter of Gail and Lyle Jordan. After being introduced, Jordan told the meeting, “Thank you to everyone who came out here tonight, and thank you to everyone who supported me throughout my years at high school, middle school, and elementary school when I was home schooled.” Of the Black Student Union, Jordan said, “I’m really proud of how far it has come and I’m really excited to see how far it goes next year.”

IASB Proposed Resolutions Recap Given: Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle gave a report on virtual meetings due to the Coronavirus that were held or are scheduled to be held by Illinois Association of School Boards. IASB held one meeting Oct. 21 with the second session to be held Nov. 5. Pyle explained a final vote on the resolutions will take place on Nov. 14. IASB has submitted 12 resolutions for membership consideration. Topics ranged from gun storage to licensing of Pre-K teachers to E-Learning on Election Day to Pandemic Control for districts.

Dr. Pyle said the resolution on gun storage prompted “lengthy discussion, as did Pre-K teacher licensing.” With regard to gun storage, IASB’s resolution reads, “Be it resolved that the Illinois Association of School Boards shall support and advocate for legislation which strengthens child safe gun storage laws in the State of Illinois, requiring gun owners to store firearms, whether they are loaded or unloaded, in a securely locked container, if a person under the age of 18 is likely to gain access to the weapon without permission.”

Unit 5 experienced a shooting incident on Sept. 7, 2012 at Normal Community High School when a 14-year-old student brought a gun into a classroom and was subdued by his teacher. During a struggle between the student and the teacher, the gun went off with the bullet being fired into the classroom ceiling. There were no injuries. Students evacuated the building and went to nearby Eastview Christian Church, where students waited until they could be released to their parents.

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 31st, 2020 at 10:07 pm and is filed under The Normalite, Unit 5. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.