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Portland Public Schools gave a 5 percent increase to student aides in an attempt to find qualified candidates for vacant positions.

(Image is Clickable Link) SCREENSHOT: PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS - Portland Federation of School Professionals union President Belinda Reagan testifies at the April 24 school board meeting. School support staff will see a pay bump in Portland Public Schools next year.

The Portland Public Schools board approved an overdue contract with Portland Federation of School Professionals on April 24. The contract includes a retroactive raise of 3 percent and a raise of 7 percent for 2018-19.

Most of those raises were for cost-of-living adjustments, but 5 percent of next year's raise is an attempt to attract more qualified candidates to hard-to-fill roles.

"I'm very pleased that there is an agreement and we can move on to the next school year," said school board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards.

Moonrise Joseph, an Atkinson Elementary School parent of a second-grader with significant medical needs, said she hopes the pay increase will help her situation. The district has been having trouble finding a replacement for her daughter's aide, called a "paraeducator."

"When our para left for a new job, finding a qualified replacement was challenging," Joseph told the Tribune. "The first round of applicants were passed over. I can't help but believe this is due to the low wage offered."

Paraeducators, Joseph said, are the first line of direct care to her daughter, who is fed through a tube, needs monitoring for seizures, help with toileting and other adjustments to access school activities. "My daughter is not able to participate in school without a paraeducator."

Paraeducators made $15.46 to $20.53 per hour in 2016-17 under the last contract. In 2018-19, salaries will start at $17.05 per hour and go up to $22.65, depending on seniority.

The PFSP union is the second-largest employee group in the district at about 1,400 members. (The teacher's union has about three times that number.) The union represents paraeducators but also campus security, occupational and physical therapists, and other employees under the "classified" category.

OTs and PTs will make between $48,661 and $81,111, depending on education and experience, in the 2018-19 school year.

The new contract also calls for similar language on inclement weather days to the teacher contract. That was a point of contention during the 2017-16 school year when many PFSP members had to go without pay due to the unusual amount of snow days.

PFSP President Belinda Reagan celebrated the overdue completion of negotiations but berated school leaders for hiring an outside attorney, whom she considered ill-prepared, hostile and petulant.

She noted that negotiations for 2019-20 and beyond are set to begin in less than a year. When they come, Reagan said that as a taxpayer she hoped the district could "see their way to bargain directly with PFSP" rather than "tossing us into the lack-of-knowledge pool again, hoping that we will drown."

Shasta Kearns Moore
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