People hold signs during the Port Angeles School District’s April 27 school board meeting, showing support for paraeducators as they negotiate a contract with the district. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

People hold signs during the Port Angeles School District’s April 27 school board meeting, showing support for paraeducators as they negotiate a contract with the district. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Angeles paraeducators calling for pay increase

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles School District paraeducators have been at a standstill with the district throughout the school year over what their wage should be.

Paraeducators, who have a base pay of $14.87 per hour, have been without a contract since the end of August, said Theresa Rothweiler, president of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association.

“What we’re asking for is parity commensurate to what others are being paid,” she said. Rothweiler said paraeducators are the lowest paid classified employees in the district.

Paraeducators and teachers supporting paraeducators have been wearing red every Thursday as negotiations have continued.

There have been silent protests at school board meetings off-and-on throughout the year also, she said.

The next PASD school board meeting is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the district’s central services building, 216 E. Fourth St.

With the exception of miscellaneous classified hourly rates, all other classified wages range from a base pay of $15.16 per hour up to $32.19, with most starting closer to about $20 per hour.

She said the district has offered an increase of about 30 cents for paraeducators, but said that isn’t enough to encourage some paraeducators to stay at the job for an extended amount of time.

School Board president Joshua Jones said it wouldn’t be proper for him to comment on the negotiations.

“We recognize the contribution that the paraeducators provide for the educational experience for our kids,” he said. “We are in active negotiations and hope to come to a resolution.”

The School Board, which isn’t actively involved in the negotiations, has not been asked to vote on a contract.

“While we’re apprised of how [negotiations] are going, we’re not in the room,” Jones said, adding that district human resources staff are involved in the negotiations.

He said there has been a lot of “back and forth” between the district and the paraeducators, but that they haven’t been able to come to an agreement.

Rothweiler, a paraeducator at Jefferson Elementary School, said there are about 115 paraeducators who work vastly different schedules. Most work between 2 to 7.5 hours each day and not always five days a week, she said.

“Some members have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet,” she said. “I have members that qualify for food stamps.”

Paraeducators and teachers supporting paraeducators have been wearing red every Thursday as negotiations have continued.

There have been silent protests at school board meetings off-and-on throughout the year also, she said.

Rothweiler said that while many think of paraeducators as “Just the lunch ladies and recess ladies,” their job often requires working one-on-one with students — including severely handicapped kids, she said.

“We have paras that are working with kids with emotional behavior disorders where the paras are being assaulted on a daily basis,” she said. “We’re working to try to get people to stay in those jobs longer.”

Rothweiler said she loves her job and the kids she works with, but hasn’t seen pay keep up with what is being asked of paraeducators.

“My job has changed drastically over 22 years and pay has not kept up,” she said. “That’s the point we’re trying to make. Our jobs have become increasingly specialized.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsula dailynews.com.

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