Allison McDonald: School Committee chair on negotiations with union

Sunday, July 18, 2021

As many are aware, we have been in talks with representatives from the APEA, the union that represents teachers, clerical staff, and paraeducators in the regional, Amherst and Pelham school districts, to extend their contract and negotiate wage and salary increases.

Our groups have met multiple times but have not been able to make progress toward an agreement, and the Regional School Committee made the decision on Thursday, July 1, to seek mediation. The APEA leadership has made several public statements about our negotiations, and we’ve received a large volume of email related to those statements, so I would like to respond and offer some broader context.

Our teachers, paraeducators, and staff are the heart of our schools and are critically valuable in delivering on our mission for the students and families of our districts, which is why we offer competitive pay that is above the average in our region. And, this is why we included two types of pay increases in our budget for fiscal year 2022: a cost of living increase (COLA) of 1% for all staff and STEP increases for staff who are early in their years of service in our districts. About two-thirds of paraeducators in the district are eligible to receive a STEP increase this year, on average about 4%. With a 1% COLA on top of that, STEP-eligible paraeducators will receive on average a 5% overall increase in pay next year.

There are other approaches to pay increases, of course, and we have told the APEA that we are open to other approaches, including allocating more of the $329,000 budgeted for COLA increases toward paraeducators.

In considering other approaches, we must recognize that our budget not only must reflect our values, it also must balance. An increase in spending in one area requires an equal cut in spending elsewhere. A larger increase in pay for one group of teachers or staff requires either a smaller increase for another group of staff or additional cuts beyond what already is planned in our fiscal 2022 budgets.

These are the types of trade offs that we must make in order to consider a larger increase for one group of educators.

We look forward to working with the APEA through mediation and reaching agreement on an approach that both reflects our values and is in line with our fiscal reality.

Allison McDonald

Chair of Amherst School Committee and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee