Recent articles about the ongoing contract negotiations between the Brookline Educators Union and the School Committee have not accurately captured what is happening in bargaining.
The Brookline School Committee reports that they have made offers that would ensure that paraprofessionals earn a livable wage. Despite claims to the contrary, the committee has not proposed a guaranteed numbers of hours per day. Without a contractual increase in hours, the hourly rates must be higher to achieve the goal of a livable wage.
The Brookline Educators Union is fighting to raise the wages and improve the working conditions for our colleagues who are working with some of our most vulnerable students and students with significant social, emotional and educational needs. Brookline paras earn far less than their counterparts do working in nearby Newton and other districts similar to Brookline.
Our positions regarding the para contract are rooted in two principles. First, we see a fair contract for all educators as a wise community investment, one that ensures students are receiving the consistent education they deserve, and that the town is preserving a quality of schools long associated with Brookline. Second, we believe that without establishing the steps toward economic justice for those who are so clearly being taken advantage of, we are ignoring the ideal of fairness that we want as a foundation for our public schools.
We cannot accept School Committee Chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff’s insinuation that the paras are sufficiently paid because they surpass the “livable wage” for Norfolk County of $13.30 an hour because that is based on an 8-hour day worked throughout the year. Also, Ditkoff does not address the issues of fair scheduling and job security.
The School Committee, unfortunately, is taking a short-sighted view of how to best manage the school department budget. There are no real “savings” if the schools constantly need to rehire more than one-third of the paraprofessional staff each year. We’ve already lost too many good people who simply could not afford to keep working in Brookline.
The BEU is bargaining from the position of wanting stable, sustainable schools. We want a staff that can afford to keep working here, providing students with continuity that helps ensure success in school.
If we can succeed in crafting a contract that moves significantly toward a livable wage and job protections, Brookline schools will no longer experience unfilled positions and constant churn of professionals who are essential to carrying out our educational mission.
MARCH 2 UPDATE:
- Residents who voted for the Override two years ago did not do so with the expectation that its passage would be used to avoid good faith bargaining. Yet, recent School Committee statements use the Override as an excuse to avoid paying Paras fairly.
- The BEU shares with the School Committee a commitment to supporting diversity. Educators of color are concentrated in paraprofessional jobs. This means that the average salary of employees of color is less than the average salary of white employees. If our paraprofessionals of color cannot afford to stay in these jobs, then we weaken the diversity of our staff and lose the ability to recruit, including those who are on a track to become teachers. This makes it much more difficult to hire teachers who reflect the diversity of our students. Lack of diversity has been shown to impede the academic achievement of students of color.
- The School Committee concedes that Paraprofessionals do not work full time. However, they work close enough to fulltime (at pay that is too low) to restrict their ability to significantly increase their income elsewhere.