Opinion: Paraprofessionals overworked and underpaid

Feb 6, 2023

Feb. 3, 2023

To the Editor:

I am a paraprofessional for grades K-4 at Wareham Elementary School. For the past 10 years I have mainly worked with kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. This past year I was tasked with adding on 2 grade levels of 3rd and 4th through a program called Boost. I now work in small group instruction, teaching literacy activities to 5 grade levels.
Yesterday I was handed an updated seniority list of paraprofessionals currently employed by Wareham Public Schools. It is one and a half pages long including speech & language pathologists and occupational therapists and their assistants.  
The first thing I noticed was that newly hired paraprofessionals were on the first page. Please note that it took me 6 years to make it to the first page of a previous 3-and-a -half-page long seniority list from prior years before moving to the new building. You don't need to be a statistician or a mathematician to see that our paraprofessional employees have been reduced to half of what it has been in past years.  
Just today, another paraprofessional colleague gave her notice. From what I see, we are losing qualified, educated, experienced paraeducators to other school systems.  
Wareham Public Schools should be asking, “Why?” 
Could it be because we are not paying what other school systems are paying?
Could it be because we are asking paraprofessionals to bounce from grade level to grade level, which does not provide continuity or stability to students?
Could it be that the various roles that paraprofessionals/educators do are being stretched, pulled and asked to do more while being offered less?
Could it be that we are too top-heavy with admin and/or newer positions that are not directly working with pupils? 
Could it be that paraprofessionals, teachers and staff are seeing that there is a ton of wasted money in the system?
It has become frustrating to be told that there is no money to give a large body of people who work with the students, to be told there will be no decent raise because we don't have the funds, when we have many extra positions within the school that we never held before. 
I have been to several meetings since negotiations started. I have listened to teachers speak up for us. Thank you, you know who you are. I have listened to paraprofessionals talk of being on welfare and working several jobs besides working for Wareham Public Schools. I have listened to parents and students speak up for us to express how important and vital we are to the school system running well, and it seems to have no impact on this School Committee as we find the current situation at a standstill.  
It is frustrating to say the least when a fellow paraeducator at another school system tells me they are making several dollars more an hour than what we make here, and that they were gifted with bonuses the past two Christmases of $500 and $1000 respectively!  
You can then get the whole picture of why our seniority list has dwindled down to its mere page and a half.   
I hope the School Committee considers the statements of speakers in previous meetings as well as what was spoke of in yesterday's meeting and pay the people who work with the pupils!
Doreen Tripp