The Vancouver Public Schools board of directors approved a new four-year contract with the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals at its Tuesday meeting. The union represents 582 employees in Vancouver Public Schools.
The contract, which features improved benefits for paraeducators, technical support professionals, special education workers and others, is retroactive to Sept. 1.
In recent months, the union had been working with the district to address concerns on worker safety and staffing shortages, particularly for those who assist teachers and work with students with special needs. Members of the union had been working without a renewed contract throughout negotiations, which required five rounds of meetings with a state mediator. A tentative deal was reached Nov. 3.
The contract was then approved by approximately 98 percent of the 300 union members present at a meeting on Nov. 8.
During the negotiations, union President Barb Plymate highlighted concerns of worker safety amid a serious staffing shortage, as many union members were having to cover duties they wouldn’t typically perform. The district reported as many as 85 unfilled positions, 73 of which were learning support or special education positions.
The new contract includes pay increases across the board for union members, most notably an increase from $20.14 per hour in the final year of the previous contract to $21.55 per hour for special programs paraeducators, who work in primarily one-on-one roles with students with special needs.
It also addresses a staffing shortage in elementary school health offices, where employees often had to supervise isolation rooms for students exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. The deal also includes additional support and time off for information technology specialists, a group that’s been inundated with responsibility since the introduction of remote learning.
“Our members are very excited about all of the changes,” Plymate said. “Mostly around safety and compensation for special programs that are short-staffed.”