SOMERVILLE, MA — The Somerville School Committee and the Somerville Teachers Association (STA) Paraprofessionals Unit C reached a tentative agreement yesterday on a 3-year contract that reflects the City’s and District’s commitment to equity and the important role that Paraprofessionals play in our schools supporting and working with classroom teachers. The tentative agreement reached requires ratification by the Union membership and the School Committee. The final offer came after months of negotiation to reach a fiscally responsible and sustainable agreement acceptable to all parties.
The Somerville School Committee voted on June 2, 2020, to make a starting salary offer of $25,000 to the Paraprofessionals unit, with an increase of $500 per lane and $300 per step. In addition, the three-year contractual offer also includes a provision for continuity of employment after four or more full years of service as of July 1, 2020, provided that new evaluation standards and procedures are ratified by both parties on or before June 30, 2021.
“For many months, School Committee and City officials have publicly stated our support for a Paraprofessional wage scale that starts at $25,000 annually,” commented School Committee Chair, Carrie Normand. “The offer reflects the values of the community, the importance of preserving educational programs for students, and the integral part Paraprofessionals play in our school system. We are pleased to be able to improve the working conditions of our staff, who go above and beyond for our students every day and will continue to do so throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Over the many months of negotiation, the Committee took several steps to address the priorities identified by the Paraprofessionals unit. Initially, the School District was unable to fund the $25,000 starting salary proposal, but in December 2019 the Committee’s offer included a proposal to substantially raise salaries by 18%, over three years. Even with that proposal the Committee and the Association were not able to bridge the gap in expectations, so the Committee requested that the State appoint a mediator to assist the parties in seeking a resolution.
The Committee continued to review possible solutions in an effort to bridge the gap and bring the negotiations to a resolution. In mid-March, at an Executive Session the night before a scheduled mediation session, the Committee approved a plan to propose a minimum salary of $25,000. Unfortunately, the COVID-9 crisis had hit and the next day, before the mediation session began, Governor Charlie Baker ordered schools and businesses closed. The mediation session was then canceled, given the uncertainty of the impact that the school and business closures would have on City and District budgets.
Between mid-March and the next mediation session, on May 13, the Committee and City officials were in regular communication to assess the City’s financial circumstances. Economic projections were so dire that the Committee felt compelled to vote at the end of April to notify the Association that it was withdrawing its previous offer of 18% over three years.
In the weeks that followed, the Committee and the City, through the Mayor’s office and with the assistance of City and District Department analysts, were able to identify reserve funds as a source to support the Committee’s goal of a $25,000 starting salary. The agreement reached yesterday will require a substantial infusion of City resources to pay Paraprofessionals a raise retroactive to July 1, 2019. Normally, the School Department budgets all collective bargaining expenditures within its Annual Operating Budget. Fortunately, the City can support the Paraprofessional Agreement and allow the Committee to modify its normal practice because of careful financial stewardship over the last several years. The Mayor has committed to supplying more than $500,000 in reserve funds to the School Department Budget in the first year of a three-year proposal. This action is subject to appropriation by the City Council. The second year (2020-21) will be funded by a combination of City reserves and re-allocation of school budget resources. The third-year costs of the proposal are projected to be incorporated into the Committee’s budget through normal procedures.