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Bethel Park paraprofessionals seek equity

| Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007

Frustrated with a lack of progress in contract negotiations with the Bethel Park School District, members of the district's paraprofessional union are working to raise awareness of what they say is unfair treatment.

Several union members -- clad in red -- attended a recent school board meeting, and conducted an informational picket before the session.

Organizers said the goal was to raise awareness in the community and with the school board about the contract situation involving the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers' Paraprofessionals/Aides Educational Support Unit.

"We believe that there are some misperceptions and misconceptions in our school board about what we do," said Jan Sterrett, president of the paraprofessional union. "They think we come in and babysit children all day long."

School district officials did not respond to calls or e-mails regarding the paraprofessionals.

The district employs 109 paraprofessionals and aides. Sterrett, a computer paraprofessional herself, said three-fourths of them work full time. Part-time positions range from $9.89 an hour to $11.30 an hour. Full-time positions range from $11.25 an hour to $13.57 an hour.

The paraprofessional positions include special education paraeducators, computer paraprofessionals, instructional aides and health room aides.

"What we do is provide reinforcement to the district, especially when it comes to children with special needs," Sterrett said.

The union has been working without a contract since June 30, 2006.

"They think all we do is clerical work," said Theresa Mavrich, vice president of the group. "We want to raise the awareness that we actually are part of the educational team and we do work academically with many of the students and provide valuable services to the district."

"We are looking for some equity in our wages," said Sterrett. "We are looking to be paid a fair value for the services that we provide."

Sterrett wouldn't reveal what sort of wage increase and economic package they are seeking, but said the group is looking for incremental wage increases in dollar figures, while the school board has proposed percentage increases.

"We are just not on the same page right now," she said.

Sterrett said the group is raising awareness now because the membership believes it is not being treated fairly.

"Last year when we opened contract negotiations in January, we were under the belief that the board truly understood the services that we provided and that a fair and an equitable settlement was in the offing," she said.

Sterrett said they were told later that there was no money available for a wage increase. She said a strike is always a possibility, but that would be used only as a "last-ditch effort."

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