A group of Harrisburg School District employees attended the district’s board meeting on Tuesday night in protest.
The group of around 15 employees, represented by AFSCME Council 13, the local labor union, were at the meeting in silent protest, holding signs asking for increased wages.
“The kids need us, and we know that, but every year [the district] is putting more and more responsibilities on us,” said Tanisha Hawkins, a paraprofessional at Foose Elementary School.
Currently, the district is still in the negotiation process with AFSCME for this year’s collective bargaining agreement, according to Receiver Dr. Lori Suski. The meeting between the two parties was supposed to be held earlier this month, but was moved to Sept. 1.
AFSCME represents over 200 of the district’s security and food service personnel, paraprofessionals, office assistants and custodians, among other support staff. The Harrisburg Education Association (HEA) represents most of the district’s teachers. Harrisburg reached a collective bargaining agreement with HEA in June that included bonuses.
“It’s like we keep getting pushed back and pushed back, but everybody else’s contract is settled,” said LaToya Elby, the president of the district’s AFSCME union.
According to Suski, the negotiation process has been delayed due to scheduling conflicts caused by both district administration and AFSCME workers taking summer vacations.
“We really had hoped we would have something done in July,” she said. “But we are moving closer to an agreement. We understand the value that they bring to the district.”
Elby explained that, on average, staff represented by AFSCME make around $12 an hour. One woman has worked in the district for 32 years and makes $17 an hour, she said.
Hawkins has worked with the district for 15 years and annually makes $23,000. It’s not enough to cover all of her basic expenses, including things like her mortgage, utilities, food, internet, car insurance, etc., she said.
According to Elby, most of these employees work several jobs to make ends meet.
What raises they have received over the years have been small, Elby said.
While Suski couldn’t say specifically if the AFSCME employees will receive raises this year, since negotiations are still underway, the district is considering it, she said. However, they must also work to stay within the outline of the 2021 Financial Recovery Plan, Suski explained.
“We are looking very carefully at the fact that we know we need to increase salaries to be competitive with all of the other employers in the region,” she said. “We are trying to come up with what we believe to be a very fair agreement.”
For staff like Hawkins and Elby, it’s now a waiting game.
“We are going into the new school year without a contract, but everybody else has a contract,” Elby said.
In other news, the district announced that Rowland Academy likely will continue with a condensed school day schedule for the upcoming academic year due to staffing shortages. The school, which houses the district’s 6th through 8th graders, began the abbreviated schedule partway through the previous year. Under the proposal, students would be dismissed at 1:53 p.m. and return home for an hour of asynchronous, virtual learning. District officials said that they hope to return to a regular schedule by the second semester.
Director of operations for the district, Craig Glass, also offered an update on the renovation of Harrisburg High School-John Harris campus’ Severance Field. Installation of a new turf football field and track is running behind due to issues with the contractors. Glass now expects the project to be completed around Aug. 20. New field lighting already has been installed.
Additionally, the school district now will hold board meetings on Tuesday evenings, at 6 p.m., instead of on Mondays. On the second Tuesday of each month, they will hold a “committee of the whole meeting,” a work session to discuss agenda items with the school board directors. The regular business meetings will be held on the fourth Tuesday of each month.
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