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The newest Decatur Public Schools teaching assistants and security guards make about $19 an hour. Tuesday, they rallied for higher wages.

Antoine Dawson is a security officer at Muffley Elementary School in Decatur, IL. He said he and his peers are being underpaid for doing police-like work. He said he took the job to be a mentor to kids.

DECATUR – Teaching assistants and security officers rallied Tuesday outside the Keil Administration Building, where the Decatur Public Schools Board of Education was meeting.

They have been working on expired contracts since June. At the rally, they showed they have some high-profile allies.

“You feel strongly about the education system. You feel strongly about the school district. But you still have to have a paycheck, because we have to have all those things that we need for our families,” said State Sen. Doris Turner.

Turner, a Democrat, represents the 48th Senate District, which stretches from Springfield to Decatur.

About 50 union members rallied outside the Decatur Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Both Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 and Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants have been negotiating for a new contract since April. Both have also brought in mediators after negotiations stalled.

About 50 union members attended the rally, chanting “Union power!” and encouraging passing cars to honk.

Johnny McClendon is the chief union steward for security under SEIU Local 73. He says the job feels different than it did when he started 11 years ago.

“Now, being a security guard in a school means there is a possibility that you won’t come home. We only get paid for nine months of the year,” McClendon said.

He says they are asking the district for higher wages and more affordable health insurance and have been told no.

DPS 61 declined to comment.

During the Board of Education meeting, school board member Kevin Collins-Brown told the security officers and teaching assistants that, as a parent, he appreciates their work and that he is listening.

Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants President Michelle Mitchell (right) inspired her daughter, Chellé Gooden (left), to become a TA.

The Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants is asking for a total raise of $9 an hour over the next four years, according to DFTA President Michelle Mitchell. That would be $2.50 a year in the first two years and $2 a year in the third and fourth year.

Mitchell inspired her daughter, Chellé Gooden, to become a teaching assistant too. While Gooden wants to be the kind of educator she needed as a kid, she said the pay is not enough to last them through the summer, spring and winter breaks.

“Nobody really hires you just for two months during the summer. So some of us are forced to work [a second job] all throughout the year just to have that job in the summer,” Gooden said.

Right now, the lowest-paid TAs make $18.50 an hour. The lowest-paid security officers make $19.17 an hour.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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