Aides bring concerns to board

ESCANABA – Several concerns about further budget cuts to Escanaba Area Public School’s Michigan Educational Support Personnel Association (MESPA) unit were heard during Monday’s school board meeting.

During public comment, several aides represented by MESPA, addressed the board on further budget cuts. The school board previously voted to lay off 10 program aides for the 2013-14 school year due to funding.

Tara Nelson spoke on behalf of MESPA at the meeting, claiming the district is asking to cut an additional $40,000 from MESPA.

“We have already given everything we have,” said Nelson. “We have given up our dental and vision insurance. We only insure ourselves with healthcare, not our family. We have lost workers. We have fewer hours. It is impossible to reach $40,000 unless you fire four more workers.”

She pleaded the board look at other areas for cuts, starting from the top.

“Cuts should be across the board, to include everyone,” she said. “But it seems us aides, the lowest paid employees in the district, seem to always be the target. Sooner or later, you have to go after other areas for cuts. We have nothing left to give.”

Carol Pellegrini, a former fourth-grade program aide who has been assigned another position, spoke on her passion for her position and asked the board to visit and volunteer their time with the students the aides support.

“I’m asking you also, if there’s any money that comes back into the school system, before you give it to sports and everything else…I’m asking you to put the money back into the special ed department and put the program aides back into the classrooms where we need to be and you’ll see for yourself how it’s going to be affecting these kids if you visit these classrooms,” she said.

Escanaba Superintendent Michele Lemire responded to the statements made during the meeting in an email to the Daily Press dated Monday evening.

“The Board of Education views the statements regarding negotiations by members of the MESPA unit as unproductive and a barrier to good-faith bargaining,” she said. “Despite the fact that their negotiations team cancelled the last two sessions over the summer and instead filed an information request, the board team is open to meet at the table. The board values these employees as they do all employees. In contrast to what MESPA cited inaccurately, the superintendent, administrators, supervisors and other non-union staff all took concessions at the June board meeting.”

Lemire added other claims regarding negotiations were unsubstantiated and get in the way of the “real issues.”

“Finally all of the cuts the board had to make were difficult,” her statement concluded. “The district cannot spend more than it takes in and aides had to be reduced. Teaching, learning, and extra support will still be provided to take care of all of our students. We are hoping with everyone working together that we will see better times for the future.”

Another issue brought forth during public comment were busing concerns.

One parent from Bark River said she lives a mile-and-one-half outside of Escanaba but the school district will not come down her road to pick up the four children on her road.

Another parent, Emily Viau of Bark River, spoke on similar busing issues. Viau said she lives within the Bark River school district, though those living across the street are part of the Escanaba district.

“I wish the district would be a little more flexible, a little more willing to work with parents,” she said. “Bark River and Hannahville alike – they are so willing to go out of their way to pick up children that are not in their school district and I just wish that Escanaba would do the same.”

Lemire noted after the meeting that she and director of operations Amy Cseter have had conversations with parents regarding these issues.

“We are sending buses outside the district now to pick up students but we have to make sure that when we send them outside of our district that we can get them back in time to make sure the kids that are in the Escanaba attendance area are not late,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest issue. Obviously we would like to be able to do that if we could, but there’s certain logistical things that we have to work out.”