By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The School Committee voted Tuesday to approve a three-year contract for the paraprofessionals union, including 2 percent raises in years two and three and the adoption of HSA (health savings account) health coverage for the union’s 87 members.

The group is officially known as the educational support professionals (ESP) union because it also includes school secretaries and members of the IT department.

The agreement represents a marked contrast with last year’s difficult negotiations between the school district and the teachers union, largely over the move to an HSA plan. Teachers eventually agreed to adopt the plan midyear, but continued “working to rule” through the rest of the school year. (Working to rule means completing that work that is specifically stipulated in the contract.)

For the teachers, the HSA deductible is $2,000 for an individual, $4,000 for a family, but the school district agreed to pay half of that deductible.

According to union president Joanne Capaldi, the paraprofessionals knew the HSA was going to be part of the negotiation. Their emphasis, she said, was on the fact that their union members make considerably less than the teachers – between $15.35 and $19.14 an hour.

“Part of it going into the negotiations was making everyone understand that we’re not the teachers,” Capaldi said, in reference to the salary gap.

They asked for extra help with the HSA transition and the district agreed. The HSA does not go into effect until 2019 and the district will pay 60 percent of the deductible that first year. It drops to 50 percent after that. The paraprofessionals also give up the health care buy back by the end of the contract – that’s money a member would get if they did not need health care insurance. Union leadership also made sure to get information to the members.

“There was a lot of compromise,” said schools lawyer Matt Oliverio.

The paraprofessionals also asked for a mentoring program, in which more senior paras would mentor newer paras and receive a slight stipend.

“Who’s going to benefit from that? The kids,” said Oliverio. “It’s a recognition of [the union’s] professionalism … it’s internal professional development.”

“The repertoire was great, the discussions were great,” Capaldi said. “We felt they were listening to us, we were listening to them. We understood their predicament. They didn’t asked for the zero percent [from the Town Council]…. It was up to us to work with them and to make sure that we could afford what we were going into but that we weren’t breaking the bank on them either. I thought everyone worked beautifully together.”

The paraprofessional bargaining unit was Capaldi, vice president Nancy DiSanto, secretary Sherry Mong, and treasurer Diane Dyer.

The contract will be made public in January, Oliverio said. Next up for the School Committee are the custodians – their contract is up this year.

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