Pittsfield School Committee OKs nonteacher contracts; parity debate ensues
PITTSFIELD — The School Committee has approved four new contractual agreements with non-teacher employee groups, but not before some members decried low rates of pay for paraprofessionals.
The committee on Wednesday approved negotiated three-year contracts for custodians, cafeteria workers, educational secretaries and the approximately 200 paraprofessionals, who assist in the classroom and at other sites and work with special education students.
As the contracts were described for the board by Director of Human Resources Harry Hayes, committee member Pamela Farron said she was disheartened to learn that paraprofessionals will have a base starting rate of $11 an hour next school year — lower than that of the other three employee groups.
"The people who work the closest with our students are paid the least," Farron said.
Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said he agrees that paraprofessionals fill a key role and should be paid accordingly, but he added that, at least in part, "market forces are driving this."
McCandless said the reality is that there are many more area residents who are qualified to serve as paraprofessionals, compared to, for instance, those qualified to be custodians meeting the required certifications for the latter job.
He said it can be much more difficult to find qualified custodians for the schools, even though they are much fewer in number — about 50.
"I have no idea what the solution is," he said of the typically lower rates of pay.
Hayes said paraprofessionals in the Pittsfield schools are paid "about in the middle" range among school districts in Berkshire County.
Their new contract will provide raises of 1 percent in the first year and 1.25 percent in each of the next two years. The first two years of the new agreement are partly retroactive, dating back to the expiration date of the prior contract.
Next school year will constitute the third year of the newly approved contract. The same is true of all four employee groups.
Another change for paraprofessionals will be that stipends that have been paid for those with an associate or bachelor's degree or special education training will now be included within the employee's salary.
Stipends also are offered for fluency in languages other than English and for working with certain special education students, and cost reimbursements are possible for unit members furthering their education.
Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon noted the difficulty for the district in raising pay levels for the paraprofessionals, but said there is agreement that those employees working with students should be paid well.
Cynthia Taylor, another member of the committee, said she sees "what I would call institutional sexism," in that the majority of custodians are male and the majority of paraprofessionals are female. She called on the school system to address the lower-pay issue.
The custodial bargaining unit contract calls for raises of 1 percent in the first year and 1.75 percent in each of the next two years.
The starting for the lowest paid new custodian is listed at $16.51 per hour in a salary schedule for next school year.
For the cafeteria workers unit, raises of 1 percent were approved for the first contract year along with 1.75 percent increases in the second and third years. The lowest paid cafeteria helper for the next school year is listed at $12.19 per hour.
A new rate for substitute cafeteria workers also was approved Wednesday — at $11 per hour, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, to coincide with the Massachusetts minimum wage. The rate for those part-time workers also will edge up from $9.50 to $10 per hour as of May this week.
For the educational secretaries unit, raises of 1 percent the first year and 1.75 percent in the second and third years were approved. The lowest beginning starting pay for secretaries who work year-round is listed at $14.17 per hour next year, and for those working 40 weeks, the lowest rate is $14.04 per hour.
Each of the four full-time employee groups also have a schedule for higher pay rates based on years of service to the district.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.