SHREWSBURY – Members of the Shrewsbury Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) recently voiced their support for Shrewsbury Public Schools paraprofessionals, whose union is headed to mediation with the district.
“As a parent of students with special needs, we know the vital role that paraprofessionals play in our schools,” said SEPAC President Colleen Corbett during a Nov. 17 School Committee meeting.
Corbett, who has two children who have received special education services since elementary school, said she was disappointed that negotiations had ended and transitioned to mediation.
The Shrewsbury Paraprofessionals Association’s (SPA) contract expired in August. The paraprofessionals have since been working under the terms of their old contract.
“Their work benefits students, teachers and classrooms in ways that surpass description,” Corbett said. “They quite literally keep our schools functioning.”
With the passage of Shrewsbury’s Proposition 2 ½ override earlier this year, combined with additional government funding, paraprofessionals thought the district would increase their base pay to match comparable communities, Corbett said.
“The current deadlock has made them feel expendable, disrespected and desperate,” Corbett said.
SEPAC board member Blake Poggi said the paraprofessionals struggle to cover basic necessities, choosing whether to leave Shrewsbury or take on second jobs.
“Retaining experienced paras who are trusted by students and valued by teachers is an investment that benefits our entire school community as it rewards dedication and fosters stability,” Poggi said.
The paraprofessionals’ current contract calls for an annual two percent wage increase in addition to regularly scheduled step increases every year, with some exceptions.
The SPA said in a statement to the Community Advocate earlier this year, though, that a two percent increase at the contract’s top hourly pay rate of $18.84 amounted to just $0.38 in extra hourly pay.
“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,” SPA President Noreen Christie specifically said at a rally for better wages last month, referencing previous raises during her career.
School Committee Chair Jon Wensky said the district’s most recent offer to the Paraprofessionals Association included increases greater than two percent for all categories of the proposed contract, in addition to step increases.
The School Committee had noted that much in an Oct. 6 meeting, saying that the district’s last offer to the paraprofessionals had combined cost of living and step increases to increase wages by between four and 10 percent.
Wensky said on Nov. 17 that he was “optimistic” that mediation will allow the district and its paraprofessionals to reach an agreement.
“The School Committee values its relationship with the Shrewsbury Paraprofessionals Association,” Wensky said on Nov. 17. “Paraprofessionals, as you referenced, are critical to the success of our students.”