The Hays USD 489 school board voted to opt out of the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act and to increase pay for paraprofessionals at its Monday meeting.

The board had tabled the PEERA resolution at its Feb. 12 meeting. At that time, board members Luke Oborny, Mike Walker, Paul Adams and Sophia Young spoke against opting out, but at Monday’s meeting, Adams and Young voted in favor of the resolution. The vote was 4-3, with Vice President Mandy Fox and board member Greg Schwartz adding to the “yes” votes.

At the February meetings, Adams did say he had reservations about SEIU’s leadership, but was against opting out.

Monday, Adams said after being contacted by employees from the district, the issue became one of equity for him.

Opting out of PEERA will end the involvement of Hays Service Employees International Union, which represents maintenance and janitorial staff, in contract negotiations beginning with the next full fiscal year beginning July 1, 2019. It will not affect the Hays chapter of the National Education Association, which represents teachers.

Secretarial staff do not have a union, and that was what Adams said was behind his vote.

“It bothers me a great deal that we have an unrepresented population within our school district, and we have two that are represented. Due to issues of equity, I have trouble continuing with this particular group,” he said.

“I’m not sure taking away someone’s representation is the best way to go on that. We should have more representation,” Walker said, adding he would stand by his February statement he would vote against opting out.

Young said Monday she looked at leave benefits among district employees, and they seemed unfair.

Oborny said change in board members and administration can bring uncertainty for employees and that creates the need for employee representation. He noted employees have received benefits negotiated by the unions whether or not they are union members.

“We’re here discussing things — our buildings, our technology, our buses — but at the end of the day, our people, I don’t care what tasks they are given, our people are what makes this district great,” he said.

The vote was unanimous to increase the pay of paraprofessionals in the district and the the West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative by $2 an hour for 2018-19.

Most paras, who work less than 40 hours, will see their pay increase from $9.35 to $11.35 at a total cost of $180,000. Most of the expense will come from the special education cooperative, which comprises Hays, Ellis, Victoria and La Crosse districts. The USD 489 board acts as the board for the cooperative.

Superintended John Thissen said the raise is something that has been discussed for several years as a way to decrease the district’s biggest employee turnover rate.

“We are hiring paras on a weekly basis because we end up paying them $9 an hour,” he said.

“They can go to even fast food places and get paid more than we pay them and in many cases, benefits,” he said.

“It was a matter that we’ve really got to make a change and make it so indivdiuals get more money or they get some benefits,” Thissen said.

Increasing hours to offer benefits would cost $600,000, Thissen said.

Approving the increase now allows the district to include the new hourly rate in work agreements for next year.