Support personnel signs collective bargaining agreement with District 203

William Tong, Editor-in-Chief & Editorial Editor

The District 203 Board of Education signed a new 3-year contract with the Naperville Education Support Professionals Association (NESPA) — which represents support staff like campus supervisors, office workers, secretaries, assistants and registrars — at the Dec. 6 board meeting. The previous contract expired June 30. 

The two sides started negotiation during the spring. NESPA leadership expected to reach an agreement before their last contract expired, said Dan Goulson, audio visual support analyst at Naperville Central and head negotiator and vice president of NESPA. The process extended much longer. 

“The fact that the district was negotiating three contracts this year, with three different unions played a factor,” Goulson said. “COVID played a factor in getting things started.” 

A federal mediator joined the negotiations starting Sept. 23. 

“It helped getting both of our teams to the same page in terms of goals,” Goulson said. “It didn’t speed things up. We weren’t able to meet as frequently.” 

Prior to Thanksgiving break, NESPA members rallied to gain support for their proposal team in the bargaining. 

“It took our members getting their voices heard for the kind of movement we needed to be able to reach some kind of resolution,” Goulson said. 

The biggest contention in this year’s negotiations was pay. 

“I think it was the NESPA employees feeling that their rate of pay wasn’t aligned with the work that they did,” said Alex Mayster, Executive Director of Communications at District 203. 

This new agreement contains the largest average increase in support personnel base wages that District 203 has offered in decades, Goulson said. In the 2018-2019 school year, the starting hourly wage for support personnel ranged from $9.80 to $18.56, depending on years of experience and position. The starting hourly wage in the new contract goes from $12.00 to $19.06. 

“For a long time, there has been this mindset that NESPA positions are just being filled by retirees or younger people looking to get into the district before going into their real careers,” Goulson said. “Maybe that used to be the case 10-15 years ago, that’s not the case anymore.”

The contract also includes raises of one dollar per hour for every year after a NESPA staff member is hired. 

Another important change in the new contract, Goulson said, was the removal of pay categories. In previous contracts, all support positions were split into six categories, clerk aide, clerk assistant, administrative secretary, red lined, class assistant, senior secretary and executive secretary. 

Any job in a category could have been “tied with other positions in completely separate departments that may not have been impacted by what was impacting that position specifically,” Goulson said. “It made it very difficult to provide wage adjustments when the market says ‘hey, this job is worth more now, or this job has changed, and they’re doing more now.’” 

About two thirds of NESPA members voted to ratify the new contract. 

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, especially since one third of our members voted no,” Goulson said. “Being compensated for years of experience and their commitment to the district needs to be valued better. People are satisfied with [the contract] over the course of the next three years, but being satisfied is not the same as being content with things staying where they are.”