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The fight to keep their seat at the negotiating table is over for the Rapid City school district’s paraprofessional employees, who voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of keeping their union intact.

Of the district’s 242 paraprofessionals, 211 showed up for the vote on May 3, with 206 — or 98 percent — casting ballots in favor of maintaining union representation through the Rapid City Education Association, and only five voting against.

“With the election over and the results certified, RCAS paraprofessionals are hoping to put this all behind them and move forward with (the school district) for the good of the students,” said RCEA Co-president Dana Livermont in a news release.

To win the election, the paraprofessionals had to get a minimum of 122 votes in favor of keeping the union.

“I think it shows the frustration of the paraprofessionals that we were able to get that many to vote,” said paraprofessional Amy Young in a prepared statement. “It shows we are done accepting what little bits we get and are going to go after the compensation we deserve and more respect for the job.”

Paraprofessionals assist teachers in the classroom by focusing on individual students who need extra academic help, oftentimes because they have special needs in the form of a developmental or learning disability.

The job is difficult but rewarding, according to the many paraprofessionals who have spoken during school board meetings since the decertification process was put in motion in December.

“I’m glad that they were able to come together and decide the issue once and for all,” said Assistant Superintendent Dave Janak.

Janak credited RCEA representative Fran Linn with rallying the paraprofessionals around a common cause. Indeed, many of the employees, according to the RCEA press release, “feel that the representation controversy has brought them closer together as a more cohesive group.”

Organized by the South Dakota Department of Labor, the decertification election was triggered during confidential discussions between school board members and district administrators in a closed session last November.

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School board President Jim Hansen said that he and other board members had heard from several paraprofessionals who were dissatisfied with their RCEA representation, stemming from an incident last year when the union failed to submit a letter of intent to negotiate on behalf of the employees.

“We facilitated their ability to make that change and they’ve resoundingly said they wanted to be represented by the RCEA,” Janak said.  “We’re happy about that. It makes it much easier to work with any of our bargaining groups when they are represented and they are confident in that representation that it is in fact what they want.

"They’re comfortable and convinced that the RCEA will represent them in a fair manner, and we look forward to negotiating with them.”

Contract negotiations between the paraprofessionals will begin within the coming months. 

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Education/County Reporter

Education/county reporter for the Rapid City Journal.