Compensation, staffing levels among concerns voiced by Westborough paraeducator

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Westborough town iconWESTBOROUGH – The Westborough School Committee, last week, fielded concerns about the financial compensation and full-time equivalent allocation for paraeducators in Westborough Public Schools.

Addressing the committee during its meeting on June 8, Paraeducator David McGrath said that paraeducators play an “important role” in Westborough students’ education. 

He argued that the schools “could simply not function without us.” Serving a number roles, paraeducators provide support to students.

“Despite our importance in the lives of our students, we are among the lowest paid town employees,” McGrath continued. “I know that the classroom teachers value our presence in the classroom. But certain decisions have made me feel undervalued as an educator.” 

School Committee members did not respond to McGrath’s comments during their meeting. School Committee Chair Lisa Edinberg did provide a statement to the Community Advocate, however, in an email on June 9. 

“We value our paraeducators greatly and look forward to entering into negotiations with their unit,” she wrote.

Paraeducator notes concerns

McGrath, who is a Westborough resident, said he “happily” accepted a job at the Westborough Early Childhood Center (WECC) even though it was only a 0.9 full-time equivalent position.

Since McGrath started in 2019, he said the preschool paraeducators have remained at less than a 1.0 job “even though every para and teacher would like to have paras at the school for a full day.”

“We are 0.94 right now, but it simply baffles me why Westborough can come up with money to build a new Fales School, but 0.06 for preschool paras has eluded contracts and budgets,” McGrath said.

The new Fales Elementary School opened earlier this school year.

He said that WECC lost three paraeducators last year. Instead of replacing these lost employees, he continued, there was a decision to have the remaining paraeducators work in multiple classrooms. He said the paraeducators were sometimes working with students who didn’t have the ability to wear a mask.

“Our risk for catching COVID and spreading it both at school and at home increased, but complying with the decision to work in multiple classrooms saved Westborough thousands of dollars,” McGrath said. “You’re welcome.” 

McGrath noted that he lives paycheck to paycheck despite the fact that he has an extra job with the town’s extended day program at Hastings Elementary School. 

He said his tipping point in these concerns took place in March when he received a $500 check from the state, which he said indicated that he was among the poorest wage earners in Massachusetts.

‘Thoughts become things’

The most recent contract between the School Committee and the Westborough Education Association Paraeducator Unit B sets the hourly wage for this school year for a first step noon aide at $15.81. Instructional paraeducators receive $19.54 per hour. 

This wage schedule is projected to increase by 2% in 2023, which is when the contract will expire. 

McGrath said he wasn’t at the meeting to place blame or ask for an immediate solution. 

Instead, he said he hoped committee members agreed that “paraeducators deserve at least a living wage,” noting efforts of Shrewsbury and Worcester paraeducators to bring compensation issues to their districts’ attention.

“Thoughts become things,” McGrath said. “If you and enough people in Westborough agree with the thought that all of our educators should be making a living wage, I am optimistic our town can do even better than that.” 

A representative of the Westborough Education Association Paraeducator Unit B was unavailable for comment as of publication.

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