South Hadley educators in mediation with school committee over working conditions

Educators told us that they just started their second school year without contracts, and after struggling to come to an agreement with the school district, the
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 6:28 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2022 at 10:34 PM EST
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SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - Educators in South Hadley are in mediation with the district after a year of contract negotiations, and on Monday night, the teacher’s union held a public forum with parents and families to discuss their needs.

Educators told us that they just started their second school year without contracts, and after struggling to come to an agreement with the school district, the two parties have entered into mediation.

The teachers in South Hadley are proposing salary increases and improved working conditions in their district.

“Salary increases are important because they’ll keep our experienced staff in the district, which will really benefit our students,” said South Hadley Education Association (SHEA) President Amy Foley.

The school committee proposed a four-year contract with increases of 2% in years 1 and 2, 2.25% in year 3, and 2.5% in year 4.

Meanwhile, SHEA is proposing a 2% raise in year 1, a 3% raise in year 2, and a 4% raise for years 3 and 4.

However, school committee officials told Western Mass News that if the district gave the union the raises they are asking for, it could result in 43 educator cuts over the next year.

Foley told us that their priority is the paraeducators.

“Their starting pay is $12.17 an hour, which is the lowest pay in Hampshire and Hampden County and is well below minimum wage,” she explained.

School committee officials said, quote:

“...from the very beginning of this process, the School Committee’s position has been both to acknowledge the significant inequity in the pay of paraeducators and to address that inequity by focusing resources on that unit in particular during negotiations.”

They went on to say:

“The School Committee has proposed a new scale to take effect July 1, 2022. The new scale for the lowest paid paraprofessionals would begin at $15.44 per hour, instead of $12.17 per hour as it currently stands.”

However, Foley said that it is not enough.

“Our concern is that $15 is not competitive when you look at industries like Target, who is paying their starting pay at $18 an hour,” she said.

Athena Fleury told us that she is the only board-certified behavior analyst for the whole district, and typically, other districts have one per school. She said that this means students are not receiving the level of support they should be.

“I can’t train the paraprofessionals the way that I would like to,” she told us. “I can’t train the ETAs that I would like to. It’s difficult to keep up with their programming.”

She added that people are leaving weekly because of the pay.

“I know a good BCBA that was in our district before,” Fleury said. “She was offered significantly more money to go to Amherst, and so we lost her.”

The school committee said it, quote:

“Stands ready, as it has throughout this process, to work towards a fair and responsible agreement with all contract holders and is grateful to SHEA for its agreement to accept our request to meet at the next earliest possible time to achieve that goal.”

Parents are standing behind the educators, saying this issue is important to them.

“The value of the teachers is something that matters to me and it matters to a lot of the community,” said 4th grade parent Nicki Henry. “A lot of the parents want to see our teachers being compensated for the work that they do.”

The next mediation date is set for December 12th. SHEA is holding a rally on Sunday, December 4th, at the South Hadley Town Commons.