May 23, 2023 By Carol Britton Meyer
As the Salary and Negotiations Subcommittee of the School Committee continues to negotiate a contract with Hingham Public Schools paraprofessionals through the Hingham Education Association, Committee members have received about 140 emails from both within and outside of Hingham regarding the ongoing collective bargaining process.
Paraprofessionals “play a crucial role in our schools, and I’m responding to each and every email,” School Committee Chair Nes Correnti said at Monday’s meeting.
Subcommittee Chair Kerry Ni provided an update. “We’re all committed to reaching fair and equitable contracts with our employees, including paraprofessionals,” she said. “This School Committee has a history of supporting our paras. When school shut down across the state in March of 2020, one of the first acts this committee took was to meet to ensure that our paras were compensated while schools were closed. Unlike many districts who laid people off, we committed ourselves to finding a way to ensure that all of our people were taken care of. That’s who we are and that’s how we conduct ourselves, and we will continue to do so.”
Ni went on to share “a few facts because there is a lot of misinformation out there,” noting that SC members can’t comment on what terms or compensation were or weren’t offered to the union because collective bargaining sessions take place in executive sessions, which are confidential by law.
At the same time, Ni continued, “Just to give a little context to numbers that may be floating around out there, it is important to know that our paraprofessionals who work full school days for the full school year work 181 out of 365 days per year and their days are 6 hours long at the elementary level and 6.5 hours long at the secondary level. And unlike teachers, who have responsibilities outside of the school days, paras don’t.
“Our paraprofessionals who work full school days for the full school year work approximately 52% of what most people consider full time, 40 hours/week for 52 weeks/year. They are also currently paid for 193 days a year, including 10 holidays and 2 personal days. I think all of that is important context when rhetoric like ‘poverty wages’ and ‘qualifying for food stamps’ is tossed around,” Ni said.
She also spoke about “how deeply we appreciate what our paraprofessionals do, working with our most vulnerable students in the district.”
As chair of the Salary and Negotiations Subcommittee, Ni promised that S&N “will continue to work toward a fair and equitable contract settlement, and that we will share all developments with the community as promptly as possible.”
School choice decision
In other business at the meeting, the Committee decided not to participate in school choice for the 2023-2024 school year but to keep the door open for further discussion.
School districts are required to make this choice every year as to whether or not to withdraw from the option of allowing students from outside the district to attend their schools.
Following an earlier discussion, the Committee held a public hearing on the issue this week, but there were no comments from the audience.
While the School Committee has voted to opt out of school choice in the past, that’s not necessarily a reason to continue doing so, member Michelle Ayer said.
That said, while noting that participating in the school choice program would bring in some new revenue for the HPS “and would open up opportunities for students in other districts who might appreciate the quality of education HPS has to offer,” there is a lot of information to consider before deciding to accept students from other school districts — which was the general consensus among Committee members.
While there’s a financial benefit to school districts that allow students from other districts to attend their schools, there’s a lottery system that doesn’t allow the accepting district to know the background of the students who are interested in participating in a school choice program.
The Committee decided to do some research in the coming year, including talking with school officials in communities that participate in the school choice program and then decide whether to offer a pilot program involving a limited number of students from other school districts at a future time.
“I’m open to having a more robust discussion [prior to next year’s decision],” member Tim Miller-Dempsey said.