- Associated Press - Saturday, December 31, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Paraprofessionals in Rapid City Area Schools were expected to vote on whether to continue their alliance with the teachers’ union after the school board moved to break off the association.

It is the second time in as many years that the school board is attempting to dissolve union representation.

The board sent a petition to the state’s Department of Labor last week to decertify union representation for the district’s 245 paraprofessionals. Last year, the board worked to decertify Teamsters Local 120, the union that represented support services employees, such as custodians and bus drivers. The local dissolved shortly thereafter, the Rapid City Journal reported (https://bit.ly/2hrJXfU ).

The board’s most recent action followed a closed-door executive session. The result will be an election at which the paraprofessionals will vote on whether they want the teachers’ union, the Rapid City Education Association, to continue representing them, as it has for more than 20 years.

Paraprofessionals assist teachers in the classroom by focusing on individual students who need extra academic help, often because they have special needs such as a developmental or learning disability. The teachers’ union, or RCEA, represents all paraprofessionals in the district, even those who aren’t members.

District officials say the idea to decertify came from paraprofessionals themselves who were frustrated with last year’s contract negotiations, which never materialized because of an error by the union’s bargaining team. A member of the union failed to file a letter of intent to negotiate. Without the letter, the board refused to bargain over salaries, and the paraprofessionals had to take the first offer put on the table.

The union’s failure is why some paraprofessionals would like to see it dissolved, according to district officials. Those are the voices that school board president Jim Hansen said he was listening to when the decision was made to try to decertify the paraprofessionals.

“Because people of their own group asked for that, the board said, ‘Yes, we’ll do that,’” Hansen said, adding that he believes the school board is helping the paraprofessionals.

But Virginia Montcrieff, who has been a paraprofessional in the school district for 19 years, thinks dissolving the union would be a mistake that would be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

“We do this job because we love the kids. We’re not doing it to get rich,” Montcrieff said. “Some amazing people do this job. We need support from this district, and we’re not getting it.”

The Department of Labor has not yet set a date for the election to decide whether the paraprofessionals will continue to have union representation.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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