The Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals voted Monday to approve a new four-year contract with Vancouver Public Schools.
Of the estimated 300 union members present at the meeting, 98 percent voted to approve the new deal, which was tentatively reached in a mediation session on Nov. 3. The union has 582 members across the district, many of whom work one-on-one supporting students and teachers.
“I’m extremely pleased,” said VAESP President Barb Plymate. “This is the best deal I’ve ever seen the district give us, and I’ve been working here for 35 years.”
VAESP members had been working without a deal since August.
Terms of the new contract were unavailable Tuesday afternoon.
Plymate hopes the contract will not only allow current paraeducators to receive what they deem fair compensation, but help to fill 85 open positions across the district.
Of those 85 unfilled positions, the district said 73 are learning support or special education positions — a field that the VAESP highlighted throughout their negotiations.
On-the-job safety for special education workers was a specific concern.
“Safety of students and staff is a top priority for Vancouver Public Schools, and this contract allows the district to ensure its paraeducators are receiving competitive compensation and good working conditions,” said Superintendent Jeff Snell in a press release.
Prior to their last mediation meeting, the two sides had only met virtually — a barrier Plymate and other union members felt prevented the sides from having a productive discussion. The change to finally meeting face to face, she said, was one of the biggest factors in getting the deal done.
The new contract 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.
“This agreement positions the district to recruit for vacant positions and support students during the challenges of COVID,” Plymate said. “It was only ever all about safety in the classrooms.”