CITY BEAT: PUBLIC PERCEPTION PLAYS BIG ROLE IN DECATUR SCHOOL BOARD’S BATTLE WITH TEACHING ASSISTANTS

 

Editor Paul Osborne

     The Decatur Board of Education didn’t score any points with many in the community in its treatment of the Decatur Federation Of Teaching Assistants (DFTA) by threatening to cancel their healthcare insurance if the members didn’t end their 3-day strike and return to their jobs last Friday.

     What the DFTA members didn’t seem to know was their insurance had already been cancelled and those who tried to use it for medical procedures or prescription drugs after they went back to work, were informed their insurance was cancelled. The DFTA members found out the next day that their life insurance was also cancelled!

     Those who support the board’s decision say the DFTA knew that was going to happen before they went on strike, but, most of the time, public perception of any issue is driven a lot by emotion not factual information — and cutting teaching assistants from their insurance so quickly seemed “cruel”.

     After an emotional back and forth week, a lot of people I talked with, who before had expressed little or no opinion on the District #61/DFTA negotiations, started expressing sympathy and support for the DFTA. Friday, District #61 issued the following statement: “District #61 was made aware of some Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants (DFTA) members being denied use of health insurance benefits this morning. District staff is working as quickly as possible to reactivate all DFTA members insurance.      

     “However, the process involves reactivating insurance benefits individually for every single one of the 275 DFTA members, which takes some time. We ask that DFTA members be patient with us as we move through the reactivation process as quickly as we can.”

     • THE NEXT DAY, when it was publicly known that DFTA members’ life insurance was also cancelled, Paula Busboom, president of the Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants (DFTA, IFT Local 4324), released the following statement in response: “The Board of Education is now depriving our 275 members of their own access to life insurance, a benefit they’ve earned as employees of the district. First they threatened our access to affordable healthcare in bargaining, and yesterday they physically took it away even though we returned to work without a contract. “Now, our members are receiving letters that their life insurance is being cancelled. This is just one more thing in a string of cruelties that the district is imposing. They are playing games with people’s lives instead of coming to the table to discuss this constructively as adults. I worry for our teaching assistants and for our district as a whole. I worry what they will try to take away next. But mostly, I worry about the example that this Board of Education is setting for our students.”

     Insurance has now been restored to the teaching assistants.

     • LAST NIGHT (Tuesday) the District #61 Board of Education was scheduled to hold their regular Closed/Open Session meeting at Eisenhower High School. Teaching assistants announced on Monday they would rally on Tuesday evening before walking into the District #61 Board of Education meeting. The announcement stated: “Since late last week, teaching assistants have found out they had no access to their health or life insurance, and they were cut off from using their flex spending cards, which is their own money, even though the returned to the classroom on Friday without a contract.”

     The union representing the teaching assistants – Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants (DFTA, IFT Local 4324) – “has filed two Unfair Labor Practice charges against the District due to the insurance cancellations, interference with a union election, and the Board of Education’s abject failure to bargain in good faith.”

     This column of the Trib goes to press Tuesday afternoon so I don’t know what happened Tuesday night. I would expect, considering everything that happened between the board and the teaching assistants during the last week, that emotions could run high during the meeting. So, the bottom line in the battle between District #61 and the Decatur Teaching Assistants is public perception is usually ruled by emotions, not facts — and the Decatur Board of Education didn’t received a good score from the public on leaving the teaching assistants without insurance.

     “No insurance” became a weapon in the stand-off and bad public relations for the school board. That’s what I hear from many residents in our conversations.

     • BY THE WAY, in a news release from District #61, there are four points listed under “The Board of Education Parameters that Guide Our Work:

     • We will make decisions in the best interest of all students.

     • We will treat all people with dignity and respect.

     • We will seek input an collaboration throughout our diverse community.

     • We will practice responsible stewardship of all our resources.

 

     • ONE OF our readers (who did not wanted to be identified) stopped me on the street as I was walking to the bank and told me that she had some medical problems that had hampered her ability to move around as she once did. She said: “So many people have been so nice and helpful to me. They’ve opened doors and helped me in so many ways as I’ve tried to do so many of the things I was accustomed to doing. The people of Decatur are really great. This is a caring community.”

     I couldn’t agree with her more and that’s a big reason I love living and working in Decatur.

     • THE management of the Burrito Truck announced recently that, after the warm weather season ends, the truck will not be reopening when the warmer weather comes back in the spring. The truck is located just east of Culver’s at Pershing and Water Street, in the parking lot of a long-gone car wash.

     I decided that I would visit the Burrito Truck one last time because I really like their chicken tacos with mild sauce. When I turned on Pershing Road from North Water Street, I could see a lot of people waiting in line to order the great Mexican food for one last time. It looked like a crowd in front of a theater on opening night of a major production! I decided not to stop and a few days later snow hit (can you believe snow in Decatur on Halloween?).

     After the snow I figured I had probably lost my chance for a last serving of the tacos. Saturday morning, I thought about the Burrito Truck as I was driving on North Water near Pershing. It was a little before 11:00, and the truck would open at 11:00 if it was going to open at all. There were no cars or people in parking lot next to the truck, but I did see a single car parked directly behind the truck. So, I drove into the parking lot and waited to see if it was going to open in a few minutes.

     Soon the “Burrito Man” came out of the truck, opened the big side window canopy and I walked up to the window and thought I had struck gold. Not only was the truck open, but I was its first customer! When I ordered my tacos I asked how much longer the truck would be open and was told “until the day before Thanksgiving unless the weather turns bad”. So, there is still time to eat some burritos and tacos before the Burrito Truck disappears from view. The Burrito Truck will be missed. It serves really great Mexican food and has great reviews.     

     • I COULDN’T help but notice a sign advertising a Christmas craft event in the grass between the street and sidewalk in front of the library Monday morning. I’m sure the person who placed it there didn’t realize that private signs on public property are illegal.

     • LAST WEEK the Harristown Village Board voted 5-1 to allow the sale of recreational cannabis when it becomes legal the first of the year. Harristown Mayor Evelyn Deverell said the board wanted to “opt in” to the pot market. Harristown is the first community in our area to “opt in”, while Decatur and Forsyth have both “opted out”. I assume the testimony of law enforcement officials and healthcare providers, that has weighed heavily in other communities opting out was also considered by the Harristown board.

     Mayor Deverell was quoted as saying: “Ultimately, the decision came down to that it would be a good source of revenue.” In other words, it was about MONEY, not factual healthcare or law enforcement concerns. So many of today’s decisions come down to MONEY that they will get.

     Maybe, Mayor Deverell should be applauded for her honesty. Usually those serving in public office will not admit that many of their decisions are about ‘THE MONEY” and not what is necessarily best for a community.

     • THE DECATUR City Council spent a lot of time discussing the 2020 budget during a study session at Monday night’s meeting. Council heard the basics of the nearly $180 million spending plan. There will be no increase in real estate taxes for individual property owners who have not made any improvements on their property since last year. The 2020 proposed annual budget is available on the city’s website at the following link: https://www.decaturil.gov/ departments/finance/city-budget/. No official votes are taken during study sessions and more discussion will follow.

     • VETERANS Day is on Monday, Nov. 11th. Thank you veterans for serving our nation and keeping us free. May God bless you and your families on this special day and all days.

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