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Wage hike for part-time county employee OK'd in split vote : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Wage hike for part-time county employee OK'd in split vote
by Matt Schury


Members of the Kendall County Forest Preserve District Board said Tuesday that they would like to expand the educational programs the district offers to young children, shortly before granting Megan Gessler, the district's Natural Beginnings program lead teacher, a pay increase.

The board voted 7-3 to increase Gessler's hourly salary from $10.75 to $15 effective Aug. 9. Approval came after a long discussion with some board members expressing concern over the pay raise, including John Purcell, Scott Gryder and Matthew Prochaska who cast the three no votes.

Forest Preserve Board President Jeff Wehrli said the district needed to challenge itself to find a way to give appropriate pay to their staff while maintaining its budget.

"Our challenge is how do we do better," Wehrli said. "Maybe we look for bigger space where we are able to add programs. There's just so many ways that we can attack this. I would be a little proactive on this and move forward."

Board member Amy Cesich added that she believed if they could grow the program they might be able to increase revenues. Elizabeth Flowers said she agreed.

"I think we need to keep Megan and do what we can to keep her," Flowers said.

As far as the budget is concerned, the district is facing an operating deficit, Wehrli said, regardless of the pay increase for Gessler. Purcell noted that the deficit for the Natural Beginnings Program was around $8,600, with the program bringing in about $19,100 in revenues.

Purcell said he struggled with the pay increase given the tight budget constraints even though they had raised the rates for the coming school year.

"Megan does a super job and I think we are all aware of that but I feel more of an obligation to the financial well-being of the forest preserve than I do to any one staff member," Purcell said.

Board member Scott Gryder shared Purcell's concerns and added that he was worried giving Gessler a raise would set a precedent. He was also concerned with the size of the increase.

Wehrli pointed out that it is the largest income producer of the educational programs the Forest Preserve District has.

Board member Dan Koukol said that he struggled with the pay increase but after doing research he felt it was warranted. He added that he would rather keep Gessler than try to find someone new if she leaves.

"It's really hard to train employees and it costs money to train them," Koukol said. "I do know that you're not going to get somebody as dedicated as the lady that we have there now."

Cesich pointed out that Gessler is considered part-time, working under 30 hours a week, and doesn't participate in the county's health insurance program. Gessler is allowed to participate in the state's retirement system, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

Cesich also maintained that giving Gessler the raise got her closer to a "livable wage" in Kendall County.

Gessler has worked in the position for about four years, writing the curriculum for the program that provides indoor and outdoor education for children three to five years old.

The program's Facebook page says it "meets twice a week from September through May and students enjoy daily hikes, indoor literacy-building activities, a nutritious snack, and an engaging variety of skill building activities."

Jason Pettit, the Kendall County Forest Preserve's director, said there are two classes in the program- one that has 12 students and is filled to capacity, and the other that has nine students and room for three more.

Gessler said after the vote that she was relieved.

"I am definitely blessed to have the support of the board I appreciate that," she said.

Purcell said that he thought the program might be able to move into the Meadowhawk Lodge building at the Hoover Forest Preserve, which was heavily renovated a few years ago.

Gessler said she wasn't sure that building was the best place.

"Meadowhawk is basically one large room and if you're talking about adding classes you would need to have separate class space," she said.

Regarding the raise Gessler said that she has had other people approach her about job opportunities elsewhere.

"This is where I wanted to be, this is where I feel my passion and I absolutely love what I do and I can't imagine doing anything else. It took me until about the age of 40 to figure out what I want to be when I grow up and now that I know this is what I want to do," she said.

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