The Evergreen Public School Employees large group union will hold an emergency members-only meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss district proposals and next steps, as the union and Evergreen Public Schools have yet to reach a deal on a new contract after months of bargaining.
The union, also known as PSE SEIU 1948, represents paraeducators, bus drivers, library aides, security, playground monitors, and anyone in a classified position besides secretaries. The old contract was set to expire on Aug. 31.
Due to the nature of the mediation process, leadership from each side is barred from speaking about progress or goals made so far in the process. One member, however, described negotiations as having “broken down”; another member has highlighted how paraeducators in particular are being stretched thin amid staffing shortages this school year.
“What I’m hearing from co-workers is that things are different this year,” said Ellen Townsen, a paraeducator at a high school in Evergreen who largely works in assisting students with special needs in a variety of ways. Townsen said she manages a caseload of students that’s about 36; for reference, teachers in the Ridgefield School District just settled on a contract that set the caseload cap for special education teachers at 27.
Due to an initiative led by the Office of Superintendent and Public Instruction to maximize the time that special education students spend in “general education” classrooms called “streamlining,” paraeducators across the region are being asked to cover new roles that might not be something they’ve trained for. Though Evergreen — and many school districts in the region — have open paraeducator positions posted on their website, Townsen said more should be done to help retain staff.
“It’s different in that we are expected to do much more,” Townsen said. “Our caseloads are growing. We have paraeducators who have one-on-ones with kids they are not trained to work with, and they have no experience with them. If something goes wrong, they are afraid of the retribution from parents and the lack of support from the district.”