Amherst educators union shoots down pact over para pay

Staff Writer
Thursday, June 01, 2023

AMHERST — Bargaining units for the Amherst-Pelham Education Association decided against ratifying contracts proposed by the School Committee in a vote Monday, according to the union’s executive committee.

The union representing teachers, paraprofessionals and clerical staff announced the outcome of the vote on Tuesday that followed a May 24 mediation session. A key sticking point, they said, is the School Committee’s claim that it can’t pay paraeducators $20.50 per hour — while, the union contends, paraeducators hired in the past year are being paid at over $25 per hour, and those hired in recent years are getting over $21 per hour.

“The School Committee has yet to deny the truth of this statement, and insists that they are unable to move any further to pay paraeducators a living wage, while hiring and paying paras at rates way above what we are asking,” the union wrote in a statement. “The School Committee claims that these higher rates are due to experience and education, but have refused to accept any of our proposals aimed at determining pay based on education and experience.”

Even so, a letter to the community that Amherst School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald sent after the last mediation session expressed optimism in advance of the next scheduled bargaining in early June.

“We believe our last best offer, with the additional agreements made this week, provides an excellent compensation package that keeps our employees among the highest paid in the area,” McDonald wrote in that May 25 letter. “We are hopeful that this will bring our protracted negotiations to resolution at our next meeting on June 7.”

McDonald’s communication describes key components of the offer that goes beyond the “last best offer” that was made on May 2. That change includes agreeing to further increase the minimum starting wage for paraeducators, which had already gone up from $17.13 to $18.33 per hour for the current fiscal year by eliminating the lowest step on the scale. The latest proposal would increase their minimum starting wage beginning July 1 to $19.63 per hour by dropping another step.

In addition to the 9% cost-of-living adjustments being offered over the three years of the contract, the School Committee proposal also includes a salary schedule with annual seniority increases of about 3.5% to 4%, making those teachers with the most years of experience the highest paid teachers in the region.

The next vote on the deal is expected to take place following the June 7 negotiation session, to be held at 4:15 p.m. in person, at the middle school. The APEA bargaining team will determine at that time if it can endorse the arrangement and will also ask its members to vote again on the proposal.