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District, paraprofessionals agree to contract

South Washington County Schools reached a new contract agreement with its second-largest employee union and the last group without a contract for the current school year.

The District 833 School Board on Thursday, Dec. 15, approved a new two-year agreement with Local 70, which represents about 450 paraprofessionals.

The contract covers the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. The contract is retroactive to July 1.

Local 70 members approved the contract in a vote Dec. 13. Paraprofessionals work in all school buildings, often in classrooms but also helping to provide special services to students.

Under the agreement, paraprofessionals will see a base wage increase from $13 an hour to $14.50 in the first contract year and an increase to $15 in the second year.

The contract also includes a longevity pay increase of 15 cents an hour beginning in the second year of employment. The annual hourly increase of 50 cents for "highly qualified" paraprofessionals did not change, but the contract extended that benefit to all highly qualified paraprofessionals. Highly qualified paraprofessionals have a two-year degree or have passed a paraprofessional exam.

Health insurance changes varied by plan.

The contract also introduces the possibility of competitive interviews into the hiring process for paraprofessionals. What had been a process that relied solely on seniority to fill open positions now will include two rounds of seniority-based hiring, followed by interviews for positions still vacant.

School Board Chairman Ron Kath praised the five union negotiators for how hard they worked on the new agreement.

"There was some change within this," he said.

Paraprofessionals represented the last union group that needed an agreement for the current contract year. Earlier this fall the district settled on a contract with the teachers' union — the largest union group — but that covers last school year and this year.

The timing and approval of the paraprofessionals' agreement was particularly notable as district negotiators were led by outgoing human resources director Denise Griffith. She retires Dec. 30.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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