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Mark Twain Elementary students walk into their temporary school in the former Ross College at 2009 Kimberly Road in Bettendorf. Former para-educators at the school, and others in Bettendorf, have quit, citing a district decision to have them work 5.75 hours a day, when 6 hours is full-time with benefits.

Paraeducators aren’t teachers, but they work alongside them in general and special education classes. The five-page job description for Bettendorf Schools describes a catch-all position: They help students with transportation, monitor halls, grade and correct work, read tests, reinforce concepts introduced by teachers, and change diapers. 

“I left for a lot of reasons,” Sarah Latimer said via Facebook Messenger. She worked at Mark Twain Elementary in Bettendorf until November. “But I can definitely say a lot of amazing paras have left due to the treatment of paras.” 

A paraeducator — also known as a teacher’s assistant or aide — is considered to be full-time in Bettendorf and many other districts if they work six hours per day. According to personnel sheets submitted for school board approval, 93 paras have been hired, reassigned to another building, or had their hours change since June 2018. Seventy-three of them were given 5.75 hours per day for at least part of the time between then and now.

That’s 15 minutes a day short of being full-time.

“They do keep you at 5.75 hours so you don’t qualify for benefits,” said Lindsey Fetterer via Facebook Messenger. She worked at Mark Twain Elementary from May through July. “They told me that in my interview, pretty much.” 

Heather Stocking, the director of human resources for the district, responded to a request for a phone conversation with an email: “5.75 is currently where we hire our paras in at.”

Fetterer was able to get insurance through her husband, but said she was looking for other jobs because his insurance was so expensive. She left the district when her husband got a new job, and they moved. 

Yvonne Abbott, who left Bettendorf Middle School in July, said over Messenger that she left to get a job with medical benefits, but that she still subbed occasionally for the district.

There are 134 paras employed by Bettendorf Schools, according to the district. Ten of them are full-time, including five of the 28 at the high school, four of the 27 at the middle school and one of 17 at Mark Twain Elementary. The other four elementary schools and Thomas Edison have no full-time paras. 

Director Andrew Champion said at a Sept. 16 board meeting that the board had been asking for two years to talk about whether some of the para positions could become full-time. 

“I continue to see that turnover in those positions,” he said. “That’s probably difficult to manage.” 

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“We used to have a number of full-time paras in the past,” Superintendent Mike Raso said.“With the insurance piece that came a few years ago, we started to go more part-time.” 

Under Obamacare, employers with more than 50 employees were required to provide health insurance for workers who work full-time, or 30 hours a week. 

He added that the district was looking to see if it was worthwhile to shift some positions to full-time, likely starting with level 3 special education paras. Stocking said there were 39 paras who spent at least part of the day in that setting.

“They’re very difficult to find,” Raso said. 

Turnover rates for paras are high in other districts, too. In Davenport, more than 30% of the 114 paras hired since June 2018 have left their positions, including reassignments within the district, according to personnel sheets. The majority of the 426 paras employed by the district work six hours a day or more, though, the district said. 

Pleasant Valley, like Bettendorf, has few full-time paras: 14 out of 131. 

While there are more jobs with benefits in Davenport, the hourly pay is lower, ranging from $11.63 per hour to $17.40 per hour for those hired since June 2018. In Bettendorf, all of the paras hired in that time make between $16 and $17 an hour. 

There are eight para positions advertised in Bettendorf Schools, as of Monday. 

 

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