UPDATED Dec. 22: In just 10 minutes, the Arlington School Committee in a special meeting Thursday, Dec. 21, essentially gave a holiday gift to dozens of paraprofessionals at  Arlington Public Schools (APS).

The move brings the pay scale for those employees closer to parity with that of counterparts in public-school districts elsewhere -- and, in many cases, raises their wages far above the former level, which were in the realm most commonly associated with the fast-food industry.

The change is to take effect Feb. 1; the agreement serves to amend the contract between the district and the union that began in mid-August 2022 and runs through mid-August 2025.

In the brief, Zoom-only meeting, the vote was unanimous -- 7-0 -- to approve the two-page memorandum of agreement, or MOA, to modify the contract with Unit D of the Arlington Education Association. Unit D is the part of the AEA representing teaching assistants and others who are not credentialed teachers but who work directly with students -- and who, in some cases, had previously been earning slightly more than minimum wage.

For example, a special-education teaching assistant until now could have been paid as little as $16.10 per hour for a job in which an associate's degree is required and a bachelor's degree preferred; minimum wage throughout the commonwealth currently is $15 per hour and as of Jan. 1 is to be $16.25 per hour.

As of February, per the agreement, depending on an individual's job classification, tier, scale and step, a paraprofessional will earn between $24.88 per hour and $36.61 per hour.

Committee Chair Kirsi Allison-Ampe noted that the committee's decision brings paraprofessional compensation closer to that of the "town manager 12," the group of comparable communities designated by former Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine as being a model for the town to shoot for when determining compensation for its staff.

Gracias a la override

Superintendent Elizabeth C. Homan at the meeting thanked the electorate of Arlington for having approved the property-tax override in November.

She said the additional money that the override is expected to bring in was what made it possible to reenter negotiations -- held, as they always are, behind closed doors, a process that took only three such meetings. She noted that paraprofessional pay would be rising notably -- more than 33 percent higher in some cases.

Many real-estate professionals say that the average price for a single-family home in Arlington currently hovers around $1 million; if that is true, then the additional property-tax expense for an average home, once the override takes effect  July 1, 2024, might be in the realm of $500 annually going forward.

Budget Subcommittee Chair Len Kardon also said he wanted to gave thanks to the voters. Allison-Ampe said that it was also appropriate to thank all the taxpayers of Arlington. "We really really appreciate that."

Paraprofessionals comment

AEA President Julianna Keyes, who said that Unit D members had ratified the amended contract earlier, gave examples of what the paraprofessionals themselves have said about the agreement. One declared that this improvement would make a huge difference for her family, another said that this change makes her finally feel like a truly valued staff member; a third said that she would no longer have to consider leaving APS for better pay elsewhere.

"This is what happens when a lot of people work together," said committee member Jane Morgan. She noted that, while the negotiations themselves took only a few weeks, the true intention had been years in the making. She said she was proud and grateful to be part of an organization "that keeps its promises to the community."

Improving front-line-worker pay is a key element of the Five-Year Strategic Plan adopted by the committee and the district some time back.

More details on deal's provisions

 YourArlington has made inquiries as to an estimate about how much more district money total will be spent between Feb. 1 and Dec. 31, 2024, given the MOA's terms.

Meanwhile, according to an email sent Friday, Dec. 22, by district spokeswoman Weslie Etienne Pierre, the agreement with Unit D members accomplishes the following goals:

  1. Recognizes those with long tenure with a higher step placement and hourly rate;
  2. Increases wages for every member of Unit D;
  3. Qualifies all full-time paraprofessionals for federal leave benefits under FMLA; and 
  4. Builds in additional flexible working hours for paraprofessionals, which enables the district to effectively expand and implement programming, build in time for collaboration and provide additional paid working hours.

Aug. 25, 2023: New position created, other hiring efforts implemented as first day of school nears
  

This news summary by YourArlington Editor Judith Pfeffer was published Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023, and updated Friday, Dec. 22, with four key specifics about the agreement, the addition of a link to the MOA document online and overall minor wordsmithing.

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