Becca Paul, a paraeducator at Jefferson Elementary in Port Angeles, helps introduce a new book for third-graders, from left, Margret Trowbridge, Taezia Hanan and Skylyn King, to practice reading in the Literacy Lab. The book is entitled “The Girl With A Vision.” (Dave Logan/for Peninsula Daily News)

Becca Paul, a paraeducator at Jefferson Elementary in Port Angeles, helps introduce a new book for third-graders, from left, Margret Trowbridge, Taezia Hanan and Skylyn King, to practice reading in the Literacy Lab. The book is entitled “The Girl With A Vision.” (Dave Logan/for Peninsula Daily News)

After two-year deal, PA paraeducators back to work

Union, school district agree to mediated contract with baseline increases

PORT ANGELES — Members of the Port Angeles Paraeducator Association voted to ratify an agreement for a two-year contract agreement between the union and the district, ending a five-day strike and enabling students to return to class Monday.

PAPEA President Rebecca Winters said 96 percent of the members at the Sunday meeting approved a recommended settlement with the Port Angeles School District that had been proposed by a mediator with the Washington State Public Employees Relations Commission.

Winters said the agreement had strengthened the PAPEA contract and garnered respect for its members.

“We are educators; we’re no longer just the teachers’ assistants or supervisors on the playground,” Winters said.

The school board will likely vote on the agreement at its next meeting April 25, if not at its following meeting May 9. It will also need to determine the last day of the school year, which is tentatively set for June 24.

The district agreed to the recommended settlement even though it will cost it more than the two-year, $225,000 package it presented as the most sustainable option in the face of diminishing state support for K-12 education.

The full contract amount was not available Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to review the budget and make some strategic reductions to sustain the contract,” Superintendent Marty Brewer said. “We’re going to have to look at building a balanced budget and you know that will require some cost-cutting measures.”

Ultimately, Brewer said, the motivating factor for the district agreeing to the contract was getting students back in school.

“Both sides wanted our students back in school, and that was the primary function of getting a deal done,” he said.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, baseline salaries from paraeducators will rise from $21.68 to $28.33 an hour to $22.14 to $28.84 an hour depending on years of experience. Paraeducators working one-on-one with students with high needs will receive 50 cents more an hour for those assignments.

The PAPEA did not get the 3.7 percent implicit price deflator (IPD) wage increase it had been seeking. The IPD is the measure the state uses for offsetting the impact of inflation on education employee wages every year. However, the agreement includes more steps in the salary schedule, accelerating paraeducator earnings and creating an incentive for them to stay in their jobs longer — a goal of the PAPEA, which has blamed low wages and few incentives for the high rates of turnover.

The previous PAPEA schedule had just five steps: one to three years; four to nine years; 10-14 years; 15-19 years; and 20 and more years.

The new schedule has a step with a 1.8 percent increase in pay for each year from 1 to 11 years of experience and then longevity enhancements for years 12-15, 16-19 and 20 and longer.

“The new salary schedule is going to be beneficial to members going forward,” Winters said. “Members will be moving up every year on the pay scale instead of being stuck in one for five years.”

Winters said she had been overwhelmed by the community response to the strike that began April 8 and which saw picketers marching outside schools and the administration building throughout the week.

“It is evident that this community values our work and what paraeducators do every day,” Winters said. “Businesses, parents, community members showed up. It was incredible to see.”

Although the strike is over, Winters said there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly at the state level.

“My future plans are to continue to put pressure on legislators in working toward a bill for changing the prototypical model [the state uses for funding school districts] and raising the standard pay rate for paraeducators.”

Brewer said Port Angeles has been in the forefront of districts preparing for Washington’s growing public school funding crisis, much of it related to falling enrollment. Last year, the district trimmed almost 10 percent from its 2023-24 budget to close a $5 million shortfall. The cuts will continue as the district and board put together next year’s budget to meet contract and spending obligations.

“I think we’re one year ahead of everybody, so we’re feeling the pain before anyone else,” Brewer said.

The district has two remaining collective bargaining units to negotiate with on contracts, the Teamsters and the Port Angeles Activities Advisors’ Association that represents coaches.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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