West Hartford Board of Education Approves Paraprofessional Contract, Tables Calendar Vote

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The West Hartford Board of Education approved a new four-year contract for its paraprofessionals, and is asking for further input from the public before voting on the 2020-2021 school year calendar on April 16.

By Ted Glanzer

The West Hartford Board of Education Tuesday night unanimously approved a four-year agreement with the school district’s paraprofessional union that will increase wages 12 percent over the life of the contract.

The agreement runs from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2022, with general wage increases of 2.75 percent in year 1, 3 percent in year 2, 3 percent in year 3, and 3.25 percent in year 4. The paraprofessional union ratified the agreement on Feb. 20.

Rick Ledwith, executive director of human resources, summarized the agreement for the Board, stating the wage increase was higher than in the past – which typically was in the 2 to 2.25 percent range – because the district had fallen behind similarly situated school districts in its district reference group (DRG B). 

Ledwith said the district’s 200 paraprofessionals, about 140 of whom work with special needs children, play a vital role in the education system. With that in mind, in recent years the school district has struggled with recruiting and retaining its paraprofessionals because the district had fallen to the bottom of DRG B.

The agreement also contains the following:

  • The bus monitor stipend increases from $13.50 a run to $14 a run in 2019-20 and then $14.50 in 2020-21.
  • The paraprofessionals will be moved to the State Partnership Plan for health care and dental for all active and retired employees. Further, employee health care contributions increase to 17 percent in 2019-20.
  • The SPP contains a health enhancement plan component that requires employees and their dependents participating in the SPP to engage in mandatory preventive programs, such as cholesterol screenings and colonoscopies, as well as those with diabetes and heart conditions to engage in education counseling programs, Ledwith said. He said that there are significant penalties if they do not adhere to the wellness program, including premiums increasing $100 per month and additional deductibles.
  • Pension contributions increase from 4 to 5 percent over the course of the agreement, Ledwith said.

The Board approved the agreement without any additional discussion. Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said he was pleased with the agreement.

“Our paras do incredible work every day, often with kids with the greatest needs,” Moore said. “So it’s important that we recognize them. It’s important that we keep them and it’s important to make sure that they love West Hartford, that they want to be here, that they can’t look at the town next door and say, ‘I’m sorry, I have to leave.’ So this contract is fiscally sound, but it also keeps our people here hopefully.”

In other business, the Board, after a lengthy discussion, unanimously agreed to table its discussion for a third reading on the 2020-21 school year calendar to its April 16 meeting to obtain additional feedback from the community.

The Board is considering four separate calendars:

  • Option 1 would have the school year begin on Aug. 26 with the last day on June 8, with spring break from April 12 to 16.
  • Option 2 would have the school year begin on Sept. 2 and end on June 15, with spring break on April 12 to 16.
  • Option 3 would have the school year begin on Sept. 2, end on June 15, with spring break on April 2 (Good Friday) to 9.
  • Option 4 would have the school year begin Aug. 26, end on June 11, with spring break April 12 to 16, and the addition of three more days off in February to have an entire, weeklong winter break from Feb. 15 to 19.  The other three options would have just Feb. 15 and 16 off.

While it appeared there wasn’t a general consensus on which option was favored more than another, Board members did express their surprise that they received relatively little feedback on the first three options (the fourth was added at Tuesday’s meeting) leading up to the second reading.

Mark Zydanowicz said he, along with the other Board of Education members, received one email from a resident who teaches out of the district and wanted to have April break to conform with the time that resident gets off in the other district.

“I was surprised there was no email; no one got in touch with us,” he said. “I was surprised we didn’t more than get one message. It just might demonstrate the willingness of the flexibility of our West Hartford residents.”

Student representatives Megan Striff-Cave and Gus Bacon both favored having April break earlier because they said they felt like that would allow for additional time to prepare for advanced placement exams, which are taken in May.

Bacon got the biggest laugh and by far the most support when he suggested having the day after the Super Bowl off. Despite the enthusiasm in the room, it was not implemented in any of the scenarios.

In more serious discussions, other Board members cited the pros and cons to having a later start date to the school year versus an earlier one. Later start dates would enable families to have the last week of August off, while earlier start dates would give students the opportunity to begin job training and college orientations earlier at the end of the school year.

Board member Cheryl Greenberg said that despite being a college professor, she was loath to have the entire school calendar – kindergarten through grade 12 – be designed around the high school advanced placement exams, though she did not share what option she necessarily favored. Greenberg was the school board member who suggested adding the fourth option with the extended February break, though, again, she did not say she necessarily favored it.

Moore said parents and students interested in providing feedback on the issue may do so by emailing individual school board members or the entire school board through the Board of Education’s website.

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