Restructuring plan affects Northern Lights support staff

Changes are in store for employees at Northern Lights Elementary School. The Superior School Board voted unanimously last week to move forward a plan to abolish 28 support staff positions at the school and replace them with 15 new positions. A ne...

Changes are in store for employees at Northern Lights Elementary School.

The Superior School Board voted unanimously last week to move forward a plan to abolish 28 support staff positions at the school and replace them with 15 new positions. A new job title - student assistant - was created to encompass the duties previously performed by school assistants, teacher assistants and tutors.

The change will result in lost jobs. Monica Tikkanen, director of human resources, said 19 people - many working multiple jobs - filled the 28 positions that have been abolished.

Of those 19 employees, 11 have been rehired as student assistants. Five chose not to apply for the new positions, and three went through the interview process but were not selected.

As of Aug. 4, two student assistant positions at Northern Lights remained unfilled.


“Of course the staff that may not be selected in the end for the positions are certainly going to be disadvantaged, but the staff that are selected for the student assistant positions are actually happy that they’re being paid a consistently higher wage for the hours they’re there,” said Robyn Deshayes, principal at Northern Lights.

Student assistants will receive the same hourly pay as teacher assistants, $13.35, and most will work 5.5 hours a day. Tutors earn $9.42 an hour, and school assistants earn $10.99 an hour. Staff in those positions can be scheduled to work as little as two hours a day.

The job restructuring is the brainchild of Deshayes and assistant principal Mary Anderson-Petroske. The two Northern Lights administrators are seeking to reduce incidents of misbehavior during recess and lunch periods, and they believe building a consistent staff is key.

To that end, student assistants will work with children in the classroom and also supervise them on the playground.

“We’ve seen in the past how that affects the kids,” said Janna Stevens, district administrator. “When you’re working directly with kids academically and you go out to the cafeteria or recess, they’re much more respectful to the adults.”

Anderson-Petroske and Deshayes also hope offering longer hours for the student assistant position will improve support staff retention rates.

Maintaining staff in two-hour school assistant positions had been a struggle. Employees moved on as soon as better positions became available, and that left Northern Lights short-staffed during recess several times each week.

“Sometimes we would have one assistant with 100 fifth-graders, and we’d have to pull teacher assistants out of the classroom,” Anderson-Petroske said. “So the academics get disrupted.”


Board member Craig Peterson, a retired educator, said he empathized with Anderson-Petroske and Deshayes.

“I’ve been there and done that,” he said. “You just hate to leave the building during those times because you don’t have enough staff to ensure the safety of the kids. So for that reason I would move that we accept this plan.”

At this point the new student assistant classification is only being implemented at Northern Lights, but if successful, it could expand to other elementary schools, Stevens said.

The change is cost neutral to the district.

Employee concerns

Board members Sheila Keup and Steve Stupak both asked pointed questions about how the proposed changes would affect employees at Northern Lights.

Keup wanted to know how the realignment would impact eligibility for health care coverage.

None of the 19 employees affected currently have health care benefits, Stevens said.


“No one is losing their health care,” she said. “I’m not aware that any of them said they’d like to get on insurance, but they won’t be eligible now moving forward.”

The Superior School Board approved a policy change last month to adopt the Affordable Care Act’s standards for determining benefit eligibility. Under the ACA, employees must be offered benefits if they average least 30 hours of work per week.

Keup asked if the restructuring at Northern Lights - which keeps employees below the 30-hour threshold - will deprive employees of health care benefits.

“There are a few people in that group that work more than six hours now in their two bid jobs,” Tikkanen said.

Those employees are not eligible for health benefits now, but they would have been in 2016-17 under ACA guidelines.

Stupak asked if any employees would be hurt financially by the changes at Northern Nights. He also wanted to know how staff had been informed of the plan and what options they were given.

Deshayes said moving to the new student assistant classification will result in equal or greater compensation for most employees, but in a few select cases staff members will suffer a small pay cut.

“Because the pay is different with the student assistant job, a person that was working as a four-hour teacher assistant and then tacking on a two- or two-and-a-half-hour tutor job will actually be making about $1.50 less a day but also working an hour less a day,” Deshayes said. “So the financial impact on them is fairly minimal.”


Notice of the proposed changes was communicated to the staff about a month ago, Stevens said. All employees impacted were invited to a meeting in mid-July and encouraged to apply for the new positions.

“If they haven’t applied for that position and they’re looking to do something else, we can certainly help them,” Stevens said. “The real truth is we’ve got a ton of openings. If they want to do it, we’re happy to have them on board.”

The Superior School Board will take a final vote on the matter at its regular meeting today. The public meeting is scheduled to begin at approximately 5:30 p.m.

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