Paraprofessionals ask for public support during union negotiations

Jun 23, 2022

Months into contract negotiations with the School Committee, paraprofessionals gathered with supportive teachers and staff members to walk in to the school as a group and ask for public support in their bid for better pay. 

Paraprofessionals, sometimes called teachers’ aides, work to support special education students both in general and special education classrooms. 

Currently, a first-year paraprofessional earns $23,013, according to the union’s current contract, which will expire in August. A paraprofessional in their fifth year in the district earns $24,909.

According to the Wareham Education Association — the teacher’s union — half of Wareham’s paraprofessionals rely on state support. And many work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Lisa Ferro, who’s worked as a paraprofessional for nearly 17 years, said that she and her colleagues stay in these jobs because they love the students. 

“If we didn’t love it, we wouldn’t be here,” she said, adding that the paraprofessionals just want to feel appreciated.

Union head Deanna Semple said that with prices rising, paraprofessionals desperately need better pay.

“They’re just looking for a fair wage that they can live on,” Semple said. She said that paraprofessionals statewide have been fighting for better pay, and acknowledged that the district’s budget is limited. But, she said, when making a budget, you don’t cut the essentials. 

“Paras who work directly with students are the lifeblood of the schools,” Semple said. She said paraprofessionals frequently cover classrooms when teachers have a meeting and fill a variety of essential roles throughout the schools, frequently being pulled “in 20 different directions.”

Now, as negotiations have stalled, the union and School Committee are set to enter mediation, but the committee canceled the first meeting set with the mediator. 

The paraprofessionals have been offered a 2.75% raise, but Semple pointed out that paraprofessionals have a lower base salary than custodians and teachers. She said the union’s initial ask for a dollar per hour raise was denied and the group was offered 47 cents.

Asked about the negotiations, Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said “I value everyone that works in this district and I understand that it’s important to be able to have a dialogue about how we can make it work for everyone. I hope we can get to that point.”

The union has launched a petition, asking the district to meet the union’s request to increase pay by $1 per hour next year and by $1.25 for each of the following two years. Click here for more.