CSEA Paraeducators Testify
CSEA paraeducators testified at a public hearing on an interim study of paraeducator staffing levels in late September. The program review (PRI) committee approved the study of school paraeducator staffing in May of 2014 following intensive lobbying efforts by CSEA and other unions representing paras to form a task force on these same issues. Our union and others have raised the issue that districts are assigning school paraeducators in ways that render paras unable to effectively perform their core duties, including those that are required by special education students’ individualized education plans.
Cille Grabert, para educator in the New FairfieldSchool District testified. “When I was assigned to three students in a first grade class, my job was to keep them on task, have them complete an assignment, and monitor their behavior. The teacher told me that all of the students had to produce something to complete their assignments. It was very challenging because each had different learning issues and learning styles. One student would break every pencil that I gave him and act out, another student was extremely shy and had difficulties with reading, and the last student had problems with writing and spelling. Many elementary paraeducators experience similar situations everyday assisting in the classroom, and without the necessary training to address the needs of our students we can’t serve them nearly as well as we could. We need the proper tools to do the job; we need access to professional development.”
The report’s findings so far:
There is no one definition of school paraprofessional, or para. Various definitions and titles exist, depending on federal and state law and regulation, and local district policies, job descriptions, and contracts.
Connecticut State Department of Education collects data on the numbers of FTE non-certified instructional staff (NCIS) in all districts. The categories of NCIS include those assigned to: special education; Pre-K and kindergarten; library/media; ESL/Bilingual; and regular education.
The data indicate that there are a total of 14,450 NCIS working in the districts in 2013, an increase of about 13 percent from 2003, but a decrease of 2 percent from the 14,741 employed in 2010.
Most of the increase in NCIS has been in special education, where the number of FTEs has risen about 30 percent, from 7,319 in 2003 to 9,562 in 2013. At the same, the number of paras assigned to other areas and regular education has decreased by about 20 percent.
Since 2004, there has also been an increase in the number of special education teachers (5 percent), while the numbers of special education students has declined by about 3,350 (5 percent). Thus, the ratio of special education students to both special education teachers and special education paraprofessionals has decreased over a similar period – in the case of teachers from 8:1 in 2004 to 6:1 in 2013, in the case of paras, from 5:1 to 4:1.
Results from a recent survey of paras conducted by UConn’s UniversityCenter for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities indicate that 54percent of paras responding had been working for 10+ years; 41 percent had a BA or higher, while 16 percent had only a high school or equivalency diploma.
In the vast majority of school districts, paras are unionized, with various unions representing paras.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut teaching assistants (including paras) are paid an annual average salary of $29,230, about $5,000 more than the national average. The average para salary is about 42 percent of the $68,580 salary of an elementary general education teacher and 41 percent of the $71,810 paid to a special education teacher.
The study will now conduct a survey of school districts’ human resources and special education departments will seek data about: actual numbers of full- and part-time NCIS, their job titles, the students and/or classrooms they support; and numbers and types of grievances raised, injuries reported, and workers’ compensation cases filed. Further data analysis will focus on contract provisions, job descriptions, and school and district staffing patterns. The final report is expected to be released after the legislature returns in January, at which time we can expect there to be additional public hearings. CSEA members will be ready testify at public hearings following the release of the final report. Stay tuned…
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