Tumwater paraprofessionals reach tentative agreement, say ‘district is willing to show we are valued’

Sep 9, 2022, 9:15 AM | Updated: 1:44 pm
(Photo By Tim Leedy/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
(Photo By Tim Leedy/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

How much do you think a paraprofessional working six to seven hours a day providing one-to-one support to children with special needs, behavioral issues, or who are working through trauma or abuse make a month?

For Tumwater School District paraprofessional of 17 years, Meagan Ready, that monthly income comes out to only $1,400 after taxes, just barely enough to cover the average monthly rent for a studio apartment in Tumwater at $1,350, according to rent.com.

In a push to make sure that paraprofessionals can make a livable wage, the Tumwater Association of Paraprofessionals (TAP) has voted Tuesday to authorize a strike if a new contract agreement cannot be reached by Sept. 11. TAP represents 90 paraprofessionals in the district, with an additional 25 positions currently unfilled, and is a part of the statewide union the Washington Education Association.

According to the 2021-2022 TAP contract, paraprofessionals make anywhere from $20.91 to $24.83 an hour, depending on years of experience.

Ready came on the Gee and Ursula show to talk about why paraeducators are planning on striking if their demands for a livable wage are not met.

Teacher strike indefinitely closes Seattle Schools

“I’ve watched a lot of paraeducators leave after 20+ years because they’re picking between gas and groceries. They can’t afford to come in and work with the students anymore and do the job they love,” Ready said. “We do this because we love [the kids]. We love helping them. I know it’s a hard decision to make to work for lower pay, and we have some great educators that we’re losing because of it because they can’t afford to do it any longer.”

In protest of the pay, TAP members attended a school board meeting Aug. 25 to push for a “fair new contract” with the district, but according to a press release from TAP, “the district responded that because many paraprofessionals do not work full time, they are not entitled to even a livable wage.”

Gee Scott emphasized on the air how important it was to pay those caring for children, especially children that need extra support, a livable wage.

“If you are working in a school with people’s children, there is no way that you should walk home with a $1,400 a month compensation. So we need to ask, how important are our children in the schools?” Gee said. “We definitely don’t want underpaid, understaffed, and overworked professionals and adults with our children having a hard time.”

This is just one of many strikes, rallies, and pickets by school teachers and staff over the past few days, with teachers striking in the Seattle Public School system, Eatonville School District, and Port Angeles teachers union authorized a strike.

The current paraprofessional contract expired on Aug. 31 and the first day of classes began Wednesday, Sept. 7 and have been working without a contract.

TAP announced that they would be holding a rally outside the district headquarters at 5:45 p.m. today, and would be joined by teachers and community members. Should TAP be unable to reach an agreement with the district, Tumwater teachers have communicated they will not cross the picket line if TAP goes on strike on Monday.

The district has already communicated with families that the school may not be in session next week.

“This is about dignity and respect. Paraprofessionals work tirelessly for Tumwater students. The Tumwater school district does not value paraprofessionals. They pay poverty wages. If we can’t afford to live on these wages, we will be forced to find work elsewhere,” TAP Co-President Jen Monson said. “We love our students and give them our very best every day. We are looking for a commitment from the school district to our students, to our community, and to our paraprofessionals. Living wages are about respect and dignity.”

Update 9/9/22 8:55 a.m.

The Tumwater Paraprofessionals Association announced Thursday evening that they have reached a tentative agreement with the school district, as plans to strike Monday get closer.

Union officials have said that the new agreement is satisfactory and they will be presenting the contract at their next membership meeting for final ratification of the agreement.

“We are so happy to have a tentative agreement and to continue supporting our students so they can be successful learners,” say Tap Co-Presidents Jen Monson and Megan Ready. “It’s nice to know that the district is willing to show paraprofessionals we are valued for our important role in students’ and parents’ lives.”

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Tumwater paraprofessionals reach tentative agreement, say ‘district is willing to show we are valued’