By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
SHREWSBURY – Supporters stood along Maple Avenue in Shrewsbury on Oct. 27, holding signs that read “honk for fair wages” and “we are worth more.”
The rally was held by the Shrewsbury Paraprofessionals Association (SPA), whose negotiations with Shrewsbury Public Schools (SPS) are currently in mediation.
During the rally, SPA President Noreen Christie said the union was fighting for a living wage.
“I’ve worked for the district for 16 years, and in 16 years, they’ve given me $5 and some change. … I deserve more. You deserve more,” Christie said.
The SPA’s agreement expired in August. The paraprofessionals have been working under their old contract since then.
The most recent agreement with SPA provided to the Community Advocate by the district indicated that, in the 2020-2021 school year, step one degreed and non-degreed aides were paid $14.95 an hour. Personnel at the highest step, step six, were paid $18.84 an hour.
In the past, the School Committee has said that their most recent proposal for year one and three cost of living increases were greater than two percent. In year two, the proposal called for between a four and 10 percent wage increase, the committee said.
Christie noted to the Community Advocate that a two percent increase at the top step of $18.84 amounted to $0.38 an hour.
Christie was joined by Massachusetts Teachers Association, Rep. David LeBoeuf (D-Worcester) and the Shrewsbury Education Association (SEA).
SEA President Gary Chalmers said the teachers were behind the paraprofessionals.
“I have had the honor and the pleasure to work with many of you standing here over my 33 years here in Shrewsbury,” Chalmers said. “I know that I could not do my job without the support of all of you.”
“Day in and day out, you have my back, and you are there for the kids,” he continued. “I appreciate you, and I will stand here with you for as long as we have to get you what you deserve.”
Katie Monopoli is a paraprofessional at Parker Road Preschool. She also works other jobs in the extended day program at Calvin Coolidge School, and as a fitness instructor, dance teacher and elderly companion.
“That’s five jobs that I work every week to make ends meet,” Monopoli said.
She said she knew a paraprofessional who taught herself how to speak Russian because her student didn’t speak a lot of English.
Another colleague was a student’s confidant when the student was facing an abusive situation at home, she said.
Several paraprofessionals work two jobs, Monopoli said. Multiple have been physically hurt by students, she added.
“However, what I don’t know in this district, is a single para who was paid a living wage,” Monopoli said.
She said the district has sent emails about how the mental health of staff and students is important to the district. But mental health can’t be addressed without examining the causes of stress, Monopoli said.
“For a large amount of people I know, myself included, financial instability is a leading cause of mental health issues,” she said.
Monopoli said that one way to assist people is by paying staff a “fair” wage, so people don’t burn out by working multiple jobs.
“We love our jobs,” Christie said. “We love our students. We love our teachers. We love each other. Let’s show them. Let’s be together on this.”
The Community Advocate contacted School Committee Chair Jon Wensky seeking any updates to a previous statement by committee on this matter.
Wensky said the committee did not have any updates and referred back to that statement, which was made on Oct. 5
“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.”