School Committee Approves Contract

By Adam Swift

The School Committee approved a new three year-contract with the district’s Educational Support Professionals (ESP) union at its Monday meeting.

The contract is retroactive to 2022 and runs through 2025. 

The contract brings to an end long negotiations that saw outside mediators brought in to help settle the agreement.

On the salary side, the ESPs (sometimes referred to as paraprofessionals) will see a 2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) retroactive for the 2022-23 school year, along with a $200 adjustment for each step on the salary scale. The ESPs will also see a 2 percent COLA increase and the $200 step adjustment in each of the next two years of the contract.

The stipend for the ESP lead position in each district school is set at $1,400.

There will also be an increase in longevity pay for the ESPs, according to Superintendent of Schools Lisa Howard.

“This has not been adjusted in many years for the ESPs,” said Howard.

In year one of the agreement, each step on the longevity scale will see a $100 increase, with a $150 increase in year two and a $200 increase per step in year three.

The contract also clarifies pay for ESPs who work in the summer, which was not defined in the previous contract. ESPs will earn $25 per hour for summer work.

“That is commensurate with a lot of their current contract’s hourly rate,” said Howard.

The retirement buyback for sick days is increased from $20 to $30 per sick day.

There is also a new section in the contract that allows for the use of up to 10 sick days per year for family illness days. Those days can be pulled from the 14 sick days an ESP earns per year, but cannot be rolled over for family illness purposes.

“So they are not new days, they are just a change in how they can use them,” said Howard. “For instance, in the past, if you were sick and called in sick, you could use a sick day. But if you had a member of your family who was sick, in the past, you couldn’t use a sick day because you yourself were not sick.”

In other business, Howard said she recently met with state Senator Lydia Edwards about a possible earmark in the state budget that could help fund translation services for the district.

“We spent a great deal of time talking to (Edwards) about translation services for our families that do not speak English and our students who do not speak English and the struggles that has put upon us,” said Howard.

The superintendent said the struggles are not just financial, but also issues of access. She said it can be difficult to access immediate translation services for families that need help.

“We are hopeful that through (Edwards) we will be able to receive funding through the earmark, hopefully beginning in early July,” said Howard. “That money would come to the school and allow us to work with an agency.”

Howard said she has been in touch with the police department, which uses a system through Verizon for translation services.

“We’ll do some more work on that and see where we can get the most for our money,” said Howard, adding that she is anticipating about $50,000 in funding for the translation services.

In addition, Howard said she has been in touch with state Representative Jeffrey Turco about possible earmarks to help fund after school activities for middle school students.

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