By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY – Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at a recent School Committee Meeting, members of the Shrewsbury Paraprofessionals Association expressed frustration with the negotiation progress for their new contract.
“We urge you to invest in paraprofessionals by negotiating a fair contract with significant wage increases for the good of our students, our families and our community,” said President of the Shrewsbury Paraprofessional Association (SPA) Noreen Christie during the Oct. 6 meeting.
Christie told the Community Advocate that the paraprofessionals’ contract expired Aug. 26. Paraprofessionals have since been working under their old contract.
Prior to the meeting, the School Committee issued a statement that said negotiations are headed toward mediation.
“The School Committee has had open, honest and transparent discussions with the SPA negotiating team based on accurate information and facts,” it said. “We value our relationship with this important team and are disappointed that we have not been able to reach a contract agreement during negotiation discussions.”
Paraprofessionals call for higher pay
Christie read a petition to the School Committee on Oct. 6 signed by 226 paraprofessionals, some of whom she said left to work for other districts.
Christie lived in Shrewsbury for 41 years and moved to Worcester because she couldn’t afford to live in town.
“We love our jobs, our colleagues, our families, and we are essential to the academic, social and emotional wellbeing of the students in the district,” Christie said.
She continued, “We want to stay here in Shrewsbury, but not at wages that are [a] detriment to our families.”
Shrewsbury voters approved a Proposition 2 1/2 budget override in May. Christie said the district is receiving increased federal and state funding.
“The School Committee’s bargaining team has not taken this opportunity to right a long-standing wrong — the wages of Shrewsbury paraprofessionals are extremely low,” Christie said. “As wages rise at jobs all around us, there will never be a more opportune time to bridge the gap to a living wage.”
School Committee ‘optimistic’ about mediation process
The current contract calls for a two percent increase in addition to regularly scheduled step increases every year for paraprofessionals, excluding Applied Behavioral Analysis Technicians and Media Aides.
“Our goal entering negotiations was to put money into the pockets of all SPA members,” the School Committee said.
The committee said that, in their most recent proposal, year one and three costs of living increases were greater than that two percent mark. Between cost of living and step increases in year two, the district’s proposal saw between a four and a 10 percent wage increase.
The committee said it “actively assesses” the labor market to see what other districts are paying for similar positions.
After it reached an impasse in negotiations with the Paraprofessionals Association, the committee said they were “optimistic” mediation would help them reach an agreement on a contract as soon as possible.