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Wakefield School board, public dissects paraprofessional contract

Ballot voting is Monday at town hall

December 03, 2009
WAKEFIELD — The Wakefield School District's paraprofessionals contract coming up for a vote Monday at a special town meeting dominated the discussion at the Nov. 18 school board meeting.

During the public comment session, resident Jim Miller, a volunteer with the towns' cable advisory committee and public access station, pitched a series of queries on the background, terms and fiscal impact of the contract. And later, Board member Priscilla Colbath, who reviewed a videotape of the C.R.O.W. (Concerned Residents of Wakefield) meeting where paraprofessional union members discussed the contract, disputed many statements.

Miller said from what he gathered at the deliberative session and other meetings, he feels that paraprofessionals union has done a "great job presenting the facts that only support their position."

"As a good voter, I want to make an informed decision," he said.

Miller asked if at the time of hire, it was made clear to paraprofessionals that the positions are part time without health benefits.

Board Chair Jan Gagnon explained each paraprofessional receives and signs a memorandum of agreement that states the wages, hours, days worked in a year, and how many sick days or professional days are provided.

"There was a time years back when (the terms) also included a payment of $3,279 towards health insurance, with no buy-back. About three years ago that was turned into paraprofessionals pay. You can still buy in to the insurance but at 100 percent," said Gagnon, adding that there are 29 and one-half paraprofessional positions with one working 35 hours a week, one working 20 hours a week, and the rest with 32 and one-half hour weeks. They work 182 days a year, which includes one day for beginning of school set-up and two days for professional development. At the moment, the 'paras', as they are called for short, get $150 towards professional development costs. If the article passed, that amount rises to $300.

Details of the special warrant Article 1, and an overview of the fact finding report, are accessible through links on the district web site, http://sau64.k12.nh.us/. The school board voted 5-0 not to recommend the warrant article; the budget committee voted 8-0 with two abstentions, not to recommend the article.

Essentially, if the article passes, the district would need to cover additional costs of $167,806.09.

Miller said at the C.R.O.W. meeting, a union member suggested that federal funds might be available to offset the costs of the contract.

District Business Manager Scott Reuning said he looked into that assertion and found that the district does not meet the requirements to allow it to apply federal stimulus funds for this purpose.

Another question was that the estimated impact on the tax rate over the three-year contract term was not realistically based on the potential number of paraprofessionals who could feasibly sign up for full benefits if the article passes.

If all the paraprofessionals sign on to the expanded benefit program, the costs to the district would double.

Board member Peter Kasprzyk pointed out the future costs of the contract is unknown, but would not likely decrease. Resident David Lee concurred, adding that the costs in the warrant article reflect increases over the prior year, but not the cumulative cost.

Boar member Bonnie Cyr said after she was told that the current pay for paraprofessionals was not a fair wage, she surveyed the average pay scale of the three larger employers in Wakefield and found they paid an average $8 per hour, with no benefits or paid time. Based on those numbers, ($14,000 a year), the contract would add more than $7,000 in pay or up to $15,000 for full family plan benefits, plus salary to the paras pay.

Back to the table

Board members stressed the point that the best decision was for voters to reject the contract.

"The best decision the public would make is to vote no to the fact finders report and let us continue with negotiations," said Kasprzyk, who is a member of the negotiating team. "The only way we can divulge the facts is at the negotiation table."

Gagnon agreed. "A no vote means we have to go back and negotiate. If we do, we will have to vote on it in March.

Lee said he's heard the "poor paras… hardly make any money at all,' but that the public doesn't have all the information it needs to make a good decision. They should trust the people who know: the budget committee and the school board.

Gagnon said they want to work on a fair deal so they can bring a proposal to the budget committee with confidence.

C.R.O.W. statements, clarified

Board member Colbath presented her own list of counterpoints to statements made at a recent C.R.O.W. meeting presentation.

1. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: The School Board rejected the fact-finders report without costing it out and did not explain why they rejected it.

Colbath: The Board did identify the costs before rejecting the report. The Board decided to reject the report if they did not agree with it entirely; cost was not the only factor.

2. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: paraprofessionals change diapers and restrain violent children – these things take additional training and time.

Colbath: These things are not required of most paraprofessionals. The 1:1 paraprofessionals get compensated at a higher rate for these services.

3. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: paraprofessionals work the same hours as the teachers and put in a lot of time at home and at school

Colbath: Teachers are contracted salary employees and are expected to put in the hours necessary to complete their jobs. Paraprofessionals are hourly employees and have no required hours other than the 32.5 hours per week. Overtime is not allowed.

4. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: There are only 2 paraprofessionals who do not live in Wakefield.

Colbath: There are 6 paraprofessionals living outside of Wakefield.

5. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: A paraprofessional is not necessarily a part time position. Sarah Major (making the presentation) stated she worked 35 hours per week and considers 20 hours part time and anything over that full time. She stated she worked the same hours as the teachers.

Colbath: Paraprofessionals and teachers do not work and should not work the same hours. Teachers are not part time.

6. Statements at C.R.O.W. meeting: Major works 35 hours per week class time, plus class preparation and correcting papers at home. She stated that the teachers don't get paid for that time, and neither do the paraprofessionals.

Colbath: Paraprofessionals should not be doing any work at home. They should not be doing class preparation work unless it is under the direction of a certified teacher. This is not part of a paraprofessional's job description. If paraprofessionals are working outside the scope of the job description, that should be reported to the building administration.

7. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: Paraprofessionals have not received a raise in two years.

Colbath: The current year is the only year in which paraprofessionals have not received a raise. This is because negotiations were in process and no pay rates had been set.

8. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: Paraprofessionals currently get five sick days, and under the new contract would get seven.

Colbath: Under the new contract, the sick days would be increased to 10.

9. Statement at C.R.O.W. meeting: Paraprofessionals did not receive raises of $3,500 in 2007.

Colbath: Each paraprofessional received an increase of approximately $3,280 in the annual pay.

Gagnon and Colbath both pointed out that, if a teacher is asking a paraprofessional to work outside the scope of the job description (for example, taking work home), the situation should be reported to the principal.

Warrant Article detail

Ballot voting on Article 1 will be held at the Town Hall Opera House on Monday, Dec. 7 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The article reads:

"Shall the Wakefield School District vote to accept the fact-finder's recommendations dated June 29, 2009 for a collective bargaining agreement between the Wakefield School Board and the Wakefield Paraprofessional's Union/NEA-NH, and further vote to approve the cost items associated therewith and such other cost items that were agreed upon prior to fact-finding, which call for the following increases in salaries and benefits at current staffing levels:

Year 2009-10: estimated increase, $28, 473.75; Year 2010-11: estimated increase $121,879.02; Year 2011-12: estimated increase, $33,513.75; and to further raise and appropriate the sum of $28,473.75 for the 2009-10 fiscal year, each sum representing the additional costs attributable to the increases in salaries and benefits over those of the appropriation at current staffing levels paid in the prior fiscal year.

Tilton School
Martin Lord Osman
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