Shrewsbury School Committee approves contract with paraprofessionals

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Shrewsbury Paraprofessional Association President Noreen Christie speaks during a School Committee meeting on Oct. 6. (Photo/Laura Hayes)
Shrewsbury Paraprofessional Association President Noreen Christie speaks during a School Committee meeting on Oct. 6.
(Photo/Laura Hayes)

SHREWSBURY – After months of negotiations, the Shrewsbury Paraprofessionals Association (SPA) has a new three-year successor contract.

The School Committee unanimously ratified the agreement during their Jan. 5 meeting. 

“We have a lot of paraprofessionals who have served the district well for a long time, and we appreciate the win-win situation here with this contract,” Superintendent Joseph Sawyer said.

He called it a “fair,” “reasonable” and “thoughtful” agreement and recommended its approval.

District, SPA discuss negotiation process

Under the agreement, the total projected compensation cost for all paraprofessionals in Fiscal Year 2022 is $7,521,143.

That figure includes a cost of living increase and other financially-related items.  

School Committee member Sandra Fryc served as the committee’s representative in the contract negotiation process along with Chair Jon Wensky. 

Fryc, Wensky and Sawyer thanked the SPA members who served on the negotiating team. 

“Our goal from day one was always to make sure that we had money in the pockets of these employees,” Fryc said. “They are an integral part of what we do as a school district, and we can’t do this job without them.”

She continued that the district needs to attract and retain good staff, which she said was their concern from the beginning. 

Communication during their last several meetings was “vital” to working on the negotiations and helped their team understand, Fryc said.

“I’m really glad that we were able to meet and really have those discussions in that room,” Fryc said. “So, thank you very much for participating. We appreciate everything that you do. You are, again, a very, very integral part of what we do. I’m very happy that we were able to reach an agreement. Thank you for all of the time that you put into this after work.”

SPA had voiced concerns during process

The association has been working under the terms of their old contract after it expired in August. 

The SPA has publicly voiced their concerns about the negotiating process, including holding a rally in front of Town Hall and placing signs around town. 

The School Committee had filed for mediation earlier this year. 

Last month, a mediator ruled that it was in the parties’ best interest to continue negotiations versus entering mediation, Wensky told the Community Advocate. 

SPA President Noreen Christie thanked the School Committee members. 

“We had a — I don’t want to say a fun time — but a long time getting to know each other,” Christie said. “I just want you to know too, that in the course of talking to my members, all 200 plus of them, getting to know them and their wants and their needs, I just want you to know, and I know that you already know it, that you have a fantastic group of paraprofessionals that work for you.”

“We are very, very pleased that everything came down to the happy new year that we were looking for,” she continued. 

Memorandum of Agreement lays out contract details

According to the Memorandum of Agreement, the new contract will run through August 2024.

A joint statement from the district and the SPA said the agreement includes a “substantial” increase in wages and brings Shrewsbury in line with the market to attract more candidates.

For child-specific, special education and instructional assistants, the contract calls for cost of living increases of 2.25 percent in the first year, 2.25 percent in the second and 2.75 percent in the third year. 

In the second year, the paraprofessionals will also receive an increase from $4/hour to $5/hour in a stipend which is added to their base hourly rate when they serve as a substitute teacher. 

Additionally, Juneteenth will be a paid holiday in the third year of the contract if school is in session on that day.

One of the terms was for the union to withdraw with prejudice a Charge of Prohibited Practice filed with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations within five days of the full ratification of the agreement. 

In the charge, the SPA alleged that, during bargaining, the district, through their agent, committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to negotiate.

“The employer refuses to bargain over the union’s proposals and has conditioned the employer’s participation in the bargaining process by insisting that the union bargain against its interest on the employer’s wage proposal, and will not discuss other outstanding issues,” the charge said.

The SPA, in the charge, alleged that the district filed for mediation despite the fact that there were unsettled, active issues and that the parties weren’t at an impasse. The SPA said the district was “attempting to use the mediation procedure as a means of having the Department enable or approve its refusal to bargain.”

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