Council OKs city’s portion of paraprofessionals’ contract

  • The Greenfield City Council approved funding the city’s portion of the instructional assistant contract Wednesday evening. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

  • After a brief discussion, the Greenfield City Council approved funding the city’s portion of the instructional assistant contract Wednesday night. STAFF PHOTO/MELINA BOURDEAU

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2020 9:37:36 PM

GREENFIELD — The City Council approved funding the city’s portion of the paraprofessionals’ (Unit C) contract Wednesday night after a brief discussion.

As of last week’s School Committee meeting, the Greenfield School Department is still determining how it will fund the remaining portion.

With the exception of Councilor At-Large Penny Ricketts, who abstained, the remaining 12 members of the City Council voted in favor of funding the contract.

According to the financial order submitted by former Mayor William Martin, the contracts will cost a total of $349,099 the first year. The approved order will use $169,099 from the city — specifically, from the Special Education Stabilization Account.

The city’s funding breakdown for the schools would be from the following accounts: $100,000 from special education tuition, $60,000 from School Choice tuition and $20,000 from preschool tuition.

During the council’s meeting Wednesday, councilors expressed the need to fund the contract.

Otis Wheeler, City Council vice president and Ways and Means Subcommittee chair, said the subcommittee unanimously approved funding the contract before it was brought to the full council.

Precinct 5 Councilor Timothy Dolan said he “agreed with the sentiments” from those who spoke during the public comment period. However, “the City Council doesn’t have the power to either raise and appropriate or change where the funding comes from.”

Precinct 8 Councilor Douglas Mayo agreed with Dolan.

“I, too, am not happy with where we’re getting the money — I’d rather not see the school take a hit at all,” Mayo said. “Having been a union president, not in this area, but in mental health, I understand these people get physically assaulted. I’ve been hit and beat a lot, so I can understand the work you do and how important it is — it’s high time (the contract) gets funded.”

During her report Wednesday, Superintendent Jordana Harper said the School Department is prepared to fund the remainder of the contract.

“The School Department is prepared to use any available reserves, so Unit C can receive the raise passed over six months ago and has been waiting for,” Harper said. “Stabilization, not including Unit C, is on track to be depleted by 2024. ... We hope you consider other ways there might be to replace funds that we are putting forward in the short term, so we can work together in the long term.”

Susan Voss, the union representative for paraprofessionals who works at the Academy of Early Learning, spoke during the public comment period.

“I’d like to update you about stalled contracts and what that means to us as a group. IAs (instructional assistants) are angry and frustrated, for seven months of feeling unappreciated and not respected,” Voss said. “Loyalty works both ways. People are leaving the schools, both for the remainder of this year and next year, and positions aren’t getting filled.”

Karen Dodd, a paraprofessional, spoke to the council about what she and her colleagues face on the job.

“We may face getting kicked, punched, our hair pulled, spit at, bitten or numerous other things,” Dodd said. “I myself have had one concussion. These are things we face every day, but we get up and we do it because those kids depend on us. When we go in, we do it with a smile. Those kids are yelling and screaming obscenities. I don’t think too many other jobs out there that require this.”

The Greenfield School Committee voted to ratify the contract for paraprofessionals at its Nov. 13 meeting.

A tentative agreement was reached in August by the Greenfield School Committee and paraprofessionals, which the paraprofessionals ratified in August. However, the School Committee had not voted as a board in agreement with that contract until November.

The Greenfield School Committee approved a $23 million all-funds budget in October, including the city’s $19 million contribution and $400,000 appropriated from multiple revolving accounts to cover a budget gap. At the time, it was unclear how the paraprofessionals’ contract would be funded.

In 2019, Martin said when the contract stabilization fund began in 2012, its purpose was to “show all the collective bargaining units we would have funds available for negotiations.” Annually, money was added to the fund; however, at the close of the 2019 fiscal year, that process did not occur.

“We brought to the council the financial orders necessary to refill/replenish the contract stabilization fund,” Martin said. “There was no quorum at the (special City Council meeting) July 15 and that process didn’t happen.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.


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