Port Angeles School District, union to meet with mediator for deal

Paraeducators seeking 3.7 percent raise for their new contract

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District and the union representing paraeducators will meet Wednesday with a third-party mediator in an effort to reach an agreement on a new contract.

A second session, if needed, is scheduled for Feb. 15.

The district and the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association bargaining teams requested a mediator from the Public Employments Relations Commission after bargaining reached an impasse. The sessions will take place over Zoom where the mediator will work to try to facilitate an agreement. The sessions are not open to the public.

PAPEA President Rebecca Winters said her salary and those of the other 130 district paraprofessionals who have been working without a contract since Aug. 31 did not amount to a living wage. The PAPEA has launched a Change.org petition calling on the district to settle the contract.

Paraprofessionals are seeking the same 3.7 percent pay raise the district and the Port Angeles Education Association representing teachers and counselors agreed to in September. The increase was based on the implicit price deflator (IDP) the Legislature set during its 2023 regular session. However, legislators didn’t provide funding to cover the cost in many districts, including Port Angeles.

“We sure did not get 3.7 percent more [money] than last year,” Scott Harker, the school district’s director of human resources, said in an interview in November.

District officials have said they do not have the funds to provide the raise paraeducators want.

Winters said PAPEA members make about $1,200 to $1,500 a month before taxes and most, if not many, have second jobs to make ends meet.

“We aren’t certified teachers, but we absolutely carry out lesson plans and we’re the reason that they can carry on with their class load,” she said.

Paraprofessionals work alongside teachers to support student learning, safety and health both inside and outside of the classroom. They assist in classroom management; work one-on-one with students who receive special education or related services; lead small groups of students who need extra help; and provide support for students who struggle with expectations for classroom behavior.

Their work frequently involves students who have severe physical and emotional needs.

“They have to change diapers on kids that are in kindergarten to kids that are in high school,” Winters said. “Those are hard jobs to fill because, when they get their first paycheck and it doesn’t even make rent, they’re not coming back to do that job.”

It is difficult work, she said, but those who stick with it do it because they love the students.

“We get second jobs because we’re passionate about what we do, but it comes at a cost,” Winters said.

Physical danger is one risk, she said.

“When students blow up in a classroom, we are there to escort them out and they can get physically aggressive,” Winters said. “I have other paras that are constantly telling me about getting hit or bullied and there’s very little recourse.”

Lawmakers this session had an opportunity to consider two bills requested by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to increase paraeducator wages. House Bill 2380 and Senate Bill 6082, a companion bill, would add $705 million to the state’s supplemental budget over the next four years to raise their pay by a statewide average of $7 an hour.

SB 6082 died in committee and HB 2380 was sent to House Appropriations.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed $2.5 billion supplemental budget includes $64 million for paraeducator pay raises that would increase hourly wages about $3 an hour.

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

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