Paraprofessionals call for higher wages in contract negotiations
Outside the Wareham School Committee meeting on Sept. 15, the district’s paraprofessionals and their supporters held signs demanding higher wages and a fair contract with the district.
“More paras, less admin,” read one sign. “Pay the people who work with the pupils,” read another.
Paraprofessionals, sometimes called teachers’ aides, work to support special education students both in general and special education classrooms.
The paraprofessional union has been negotiating with the district since January of this year and has held several demonstrations at past school committee meetings and outside Wareham Elementary School.
The union’s contract expired at the end of June, and they have been in mediation with the Wareham School District since early September, said Deanna Semple, president of the Wareham Education Association.
The district’s 68 paraprofessionals are currently operating off the recently expired contract.
According to Semple, the contract does not reflect the current cost of living.
“I know how hard they work. I know what selfless people they are,” said Nicole Roberge, a teacher in the Wareham School District who demonstrated outside the committee meeting. “And the fact that so many of them have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet is not acceptable.”
Mary-Beth Kleber is a paraprofessional who works in pre-school “with the cute little ones,” she said. According to Kleber, she needs to work two jobs to support her granddaughter, who she raises on her own.
Inside the committee meeting, paraprofessionals filled the room and spoke during the public hearing portion of the night.
“I think I can speak for the entire committee when we say we really appreciate every working member of our school district,” said School Committee Chair Kevin Brogioli, addressing union supporters in attendance. “We know your jobs are hard. We know what you do is valuable.”
Paraprofessional salaries increase over a 20-step system, said Semple. Every year, paraprofessionals move up one step on the pay scale, which means that it takes twenty years of work to reach maximum earnings
In the 2021-22 school year, the lowest starting salary for a paraprofessional in the district was $23,013. A paraprofessional at the top of the 20-step pay scale made $33,525.
Paraprofessionals with special training, like speech and language pathologists, are paid higher salaries. Stipends are given to paraprofessionals with advanced degrees.
According to Semple, the district is offering an increase from $1.34 to $1.83 an hour over three years, depending on how long a paraprofessional has been employed.
The union is asking for a $3 increase over three years to better reflect the rising cost of living.
Much of the cost of paying paraprofessionals is already present and budgeted for by the district, said Semple.
Semple points to the Carver School District as a positive example of paying paraprofessionals. Paraprofessionals working in Carver received an hourly increase of $7.50 over three years in their latest contract, she said.
The Wareham School Committee declined to comment on any specifics of the ongoing negotiation.
“We’re going to let the process play itself out,” said Brogioli. “I’m confident that both sides will come to an agreement.”
The union will continue to negotiate with the district throughout the coming weeks.