Park Ridge schools don’t pay a living wage.

An article in NEA Today describes little-known national scandal. And a local one.

Had Marianne Murray taken an entry-level job at a fast food restaurant instead of with West Aurora School District 129 in Illinois, she might be earning a living wage by now.

“At McDonald’s, I might have gone into management,” says Murray, an office assistant to the principal at West Aurora High School. “By now, who knows where I’d be.”

Murray’s 33-year marriage ended last year, leaving her with only one paycheck to cover expenses for her and her dog, Ziti. Her two adult children live on their own. Still, after 20 years with the district she is struggling to make ends meet.

“After putting in that many years, I should be able to pay my way,” says Murray, who started as a substitute office worker in 1991 before becoming a permanent office professional in 1993. “If I could start over, I might look at opportunities in the corporate world.”

For paraprofessionals and other non-certified staff in my old district, Park Ridge District 64, the situation is not much different.

The paraprofessionals who work with teachers in classrooms are members of the IEA. Their affiliate is the Park Ridge Teacher Assistant’s Association (PRTAA).

While the teacher’s contract was settled soon after the start of the school year, the unionized paraprofessionals were forced to bargain for most of the year before the board agreed to a 2% raise. The newly elected school board president, Anthony Borrelli, ran for the school board several years ago on a platform that claimed district employees were overpaid. He was joined this year after the contracts were settled by the mad Tweeter, Dr. Dathan Paterno.

But all the members of the board played a role in jerking non-certified school employees around – both unionized and non-unionized – for nearly the entire school year.

Non-certified staff are paid an hourly wage. When the contract was finally agreed to by the board, paraprofessionals received a 2% raise, the exact percentage that members of the teachers’ union had bargained eight months earlier.

This past year a first-year unionized paraprofessional was paid $14.25 per hour.

A paraprofessional with 20 years in the district was paid $23.71 per hour.

The primary responsibility of paraprofessionals in District 64 is to work with students who have Special Needs and other learning disabilities.

I know the parents and many members of the Park Ridge community. They are good folks.

I don’t think they know that many of the the people who take care of the neediest of their children do not earn a living wage.

Superintendent Phil Bender will make over $200,000 this coming year.

The salaries of secretaries and nurses are not published on the district’s website because they are too low to make publishing them a legal requirement.

In Illinois, those who are interested can contact Dave.Rathke@ieanea. He is an organizer for the IEA Living Wage Task Force.

6 Replies to “Park Ridge schools don’t pay a living wage.”

  1. Just went up and pulled the Illinois Report Card on this district. They are certainly not out of money or with student problems. The district has in instructional revenue $9,001 and operating revenue of $13,826. The state average for revenue is $6,824 and operating revenue of $11,664. The district receives/student $4,339 more than the state average. The total for the district is $22,827/student and the state is $18,488/student. The report card has a lot of information so I downloaded it for a more serious look. It is a very white affluent school district next to Elk Grove. Go look and you will see then you and the others who do the same work as you will have some knowledge to go before the board especially considering the high teacher and administrator salaries. They are there in the report along with the state averages.

    1. George,
      You are generally correct in your analysis of the report card. Two points: The district runs a 140% budget surplus. And secondly, as the former president of the teacher’s union and a negotiator in a dozen contracts, our teacher salaries are not high relative to the neighboring school districts. Our salaries hover around the middle of 40 comparable north suburban districts (We have no high schools in our district. Five elementary and two middle schools. Districts with high schools have higher salaries.)

  2. Unfortunately the same is pretty much true at the high school level. I worked at a wealthy south suburban high school where paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, and school secretaries were in a union. The highest IMRF pension earned is $26,995 for 35 years of service. The notable exception was an executive secretary at the administrative center who coincidentally was married to the superintendent and not in the union because she supposedly handled “confidential” information. After 39 years her pension is over $71,000 while her husband, the superintendent, earns over $195,000 after 37 years of service. He’s the highest pension earner in my former district. I won’t even go into what happened to the former custodians and maintenance workers who worked for many years in the school district who were also part of the IMRF pension fund and whose jobs were eliminated in favor of contractual companies with a high rate of employee turnover due to minimum wage and no/limited health insurance and other benefits. Many of our hard working custodians/maintenance workers [most who lived in the school district] were just years away from being fully vested or were just a few years away from retirement. All their years of blood, sweat, and tears went down the drain with their tears. Many of them never found jobs comparable with regard to pay and benefits. Some divorced, had to file bankruptcy, or died shortly after the stress of their lay-offs. Wish I could say that the schools were as clean or well-maintained as before. Unfortunately, the employee loyalty and sense of pride in a job well done left when our custodian/maintenance workers did.

  3. Thank you for revealing this dirty little secret about paraprofessional pay that school districts would rather not see become an open discussion. I’d like to hear what “good” people have to say about doing this to some of the finest people their children will ever need in their school lives. Shame on us for allowing this to happen year after year because non certified staff somehow manage to survive on that kind of money.

  4. I just read the statement about replacing the custodial/maintenance workers. That is absolutely abusive!! Our custodians and maintenance guys bent over backwards and were always there for the kids.
    I taught in Bloomington #87 for 33 years and retired in 2005. We are a K-12 district with one high school and 8 elementary attendance centers for about 5400 students. I briefly looked at our report card too. It was interesting to note that our K-8 student to staff ratio was higher than state average. However, at the high school it was lower. We have been battling the class size issue for years – AND the discrepancies of elementary compared to high school (perks).
    To have 29 students in an elementary classroom is absurd! Our elementary school had 2 office workers and 3 paraprofessionals who worked with kids. The pay compared to their duties was also absurd!! Some high school classes have 6 kids!
    On the school report cards, it shows average teacher and administrator salaries. One must realize that comparing apples to oranges can happen. Years of service, level of education, and number of teachers for each determine an average. One must also consider starting salaries and salaries at the top.
    Suburban schools have always had much higher salaries, and I never really understood that other than the communities are wealthy. We did pretty well for central and downstate Illinois, but nothing like the burbs! Anyone know what the salaries are for the Governor and the President? Compare that to the $200k per year salary for the Superintendent mentioned above. wow!
    For dual districts, I think the writer stated that high school districts pay higher salaries than elementary districts. Help me understand that. Thanks to the elementary educators, the students enter high school better prepared. The elementary educators teach from 5-6 subjects per day; a high school teacher often teaches the same lesson in the same subject plan 5 times each day. In our district high school teachers have twice the plan time too.
    Thanks and hope to hear some responses.

  5. Is the paraprofessional rate of $14.25/hr still current in 2017? Is that a flat rate across the board (not based on years of service, type of position — special education teacher assistant Vs. library aide)? My son’s middle school in Park Ridge is scrambling to fill 2 special education TA positions since school started. There should be some signing bonus for the TA’s that have to attend to students personal needs, deal with adverse behavior issues, etc., in order to attract qualified, dedicated staff. Much time is lost to students and teachers when substitutes are rotated in to fill the vacancies. There is also the potential for problems & lawsuits if the wrong people are hired just to fill a vacancy. Low wages end up being penny wise but pound foolish. It seems like the kids who have the hardest time adapting to changes in their environment are the ones who bear the brunt of this inadequate compensation schedule.

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